Hyundai designer SangYup Lee picks his hits after 25 years

Close News by Rachel Burgess 3 mins read 10 May 2022 Follow @theburgeword Share

It’s no wonder that SangYup Lee, design boss at Hyundai and winner of this year’s Autocar Design Hero award, can’t decide which is his favourite car that he designed.

“It’s always a difficult question when you’ve been involved with the Bentley Continental GT, Chevrolet Camaro, Chevrolet Corvette and Bentley Flying Spur,” smiles Lee.

“I would say it’s whichever car I’m working on: when you’re proud of a car you’ve designed, it’s difficult to keep challenging the status quo. How do you move on [to the next car]? Sometimes you have to forget what you’ve done before and challenge yourself at a new level.”

Related articles

Britain’s Best Driving Car 2023: Porsche 911 GT3Autocar’s Five-Star Car: Porsche Cayman GT4 RSAutocar Awards 2023: Range Rover Sport named best SUVBest cars and industry heroes recognised in 2023 Autocar AwardsAutocar Awards 2023: the Honda Civic Type R is our Best Fun Car

Lee has worked on 15 brands in eight countries over 25 years. Now as chief designer for Hyundai and Genesis, he’s overseeing the creation of 50 production cars at any one time across 11 design centres globally, with a team of 700 people.

He describes digital processes as among Hyundai’s strengths: “We review [designs] on virtual reality and augmented reality. This is why we were able to deliver so many cars during the pandemic. We have a huge VR room, the size of two basketball courts, and walk around it looking at a car. The guys in the US join us from their kitchens and we all do the review together. It’s a new process of car design.”

Lee joined Hyundai in 2016 from Bentley, having previously worked at the broader Volkswagen Group and General Motors. Since then, Hyundai design has become increasingly admired, most markedly for the Ioniq 5 but also for the Prophecy and Seven concepts, previewing the upcoming Ioniq 6 and Ioniq 7.

Asked where he finds inspiration, Lee says: “Everywhere. Sometimes I go to a huge car park, like at a Costco in the US. I park my car, put a chair in the corner and look at all the cars, and I ask myself: how I do make my car special? I look at how customers interact with the car: how they open the door, how they put stuff in the boot. I think: should I make the line a bit lower for putting things in the boot, and should I design the seats differently to make it easier to put kids in the rear?

“Inspiration comes from looking at car parks to looking at architecture. I spoke to [British architect] Thomas Heatherwick recently; I love his London double-decker bus. The shape is very soft, very functional and really unique. “Sometimes we forget that we’re delivering creative value to customers. If there are no customers, the car in the street doesn’t exist. Car companies can be egoistic about their brand, but the answers come from customers and what they want.”

On his favourite non-Hyundai cars, Lee says: “I love the Porsche 911 series, but the air-cooled 911 is my all-time favourite. When it comes to beauty, the Italian cars are the basis for many car designers. The Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale is ultimate beauty. Then the Ferrari Daytona, Lamborghinis… There are so many.”


Latest Drives

BMW X7 xDrive40d M Sport

BMW X7 xDrive40d M Sport

Renault Clio E-Tech 2023 first drive

Renault Clio E-Tech 2023 first drive

Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio 2023 first drive

Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio 2023 first drive

Polestar 2 Long Range Single Motor RWD 2023 first drive

Polestar 2 Long Range Single Motor RWD 2023 first drive

Peugeot 3008 136 e-DCS6 Hybrid 2023 first drive

Peugeot 3008 136 e-DCS6 Hybrid 2023 first drive

View all latest drives

Back to top

Future car design will be dictated by digitisation, according to Lee.

“The car is now becoming a digital device, so it will become more of a living space,” he explains. “It’s a great opportunity for a designer. Obviously, the flat floor [of an EV] gives us more space inside. Cars will be boxes, because that’s the best way to utilise that space. The interior becomes the most important part of the car, but the box still has to be beautiful.”

Read more on all the Autocar Awards winners here

Car news Autocar Awards

used cars for sale

BMW 1 SERIES 3.0 M140i Auto Euro 6 (s/s) 5dr 2017 £20,995 53,300miles Petrol Automatic 5

BMW 4 Series 2.0 430i M Sport Auto Euro 6 (s/s) 2dr 2021 £40,950 3,997miles Petrol Automatic 2

Volkswagen Tiguan 2.0 TDI SE Navigation DSG Euro 6 (s/s) 5dr 2019 £16,800 81,150miles Diesel Automatic 5

Suzuki Vitara 1.4 Boosterjet MHEV SZ5 Euro 6 (s/s) 5dr 2022 £21,450 8,459miles Petrol Hybrid Manual 5

Toyota Yaris 1.5 VVT-h Design E-CVT Euro 6 (s/s) 5dr 2021 £20,495 5,507miles Petrol Hybrid Automatic 5

BMW 4 Series 2.0 420d M Sport Auto Euro 6 (s/s) 2dr 2018 £21,990 35,860miles Diesel Automatic 2

Volvo V60 1.6 D2 R-Design Lux Nav Powershift Euro 5 (s/s) 5dr 2012 £6,300 121,423miles Diesel Automatic 5

Audi S3 2.0 TFSI Black Edition Sportback S Tronic Quattro Euro 6 (s/s) 5dr 2019 £26,990 49,000miles Petrol Automatic 5

Volkswagen Golf 2.0 TDI R-Line DSG Euro 6 (s/s) 5dr 2023 £31,000 0miles Diesel Automatic 5 Next Prev View all cars Powerd By


Get all the best car news, reviews and opinions direct to your inbox three times a week. You can unsubscribe via any email we send


Never miss an issue of the world’s oldest car magazine – subscribe to Autocar magazine today. Subscribe

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *