Hotshots of Car Design

November 25, 2013

From a global talent pool, Korean designers stand out.” – Reuters

Lee Sangyup, who designed the 'Bumble Bee' Camaro in the Transformer movie, is one of the Korean hot shots in car design world right now. (Newsis photo)

Lee Sangyup, who designed the ‘Bumble Bee’ Camaro in the Transformers films, is an influential car designer who currently sits atop his field. (Newsis)

The word hallyu (Korean wave) is a lot like Kobe Bryant’s nickname – Black Mamba. Some people won’t acknowledge it, saying it’s something he gave to himself, and constantly hearing it could be as annoying as listening to baseball great Rickey Henderson always referring to himself in the third person.

But, it is what it is, and you cannot deny its power.

Mercedes-Benz's Lee Il-hwan (from left), Lee Sang-yup, Toyota's Kim Jin-won posed in front of Art Centre College of Design in Pasadena, California - widely regarded as the Harvard of car design. (Korea Times file)

Mercedes-Benz’s Lee Il-hwan (from left), Lee Sang-yup, Toyota’s Kim Jin-won pose in front of the Art Centre College of Design in Pasadena, California – widely regarded as the Harvard of car design. (Korea Times)

The latest proof is in Thursday’s Reuters article titled “Insight: Work ethic, comic hero make Koreans hot shots in car design.” According to Reuters, “In today’s car industry, design is king and, among designers, South Koreans are hot property… From General Motors’ bold Chevrolet Camaro to the quintessential British gentlemen’s Bentley, more top models carry the flair and signature of a group of designers from South Korea, which some have dubbed ‘Asia’s Italy’ for its impact on car design, fashion and aesthetics.” Powerful stuff.

Bentley’s Lee Sangyup, Toyota’s Kim Jinwon, Kim ‘Jay’ Jongwon at Opel, Christine Park of Cadillac, Mercedes-Benz advanced design studio director Lee Il-hwan, Ford’s interior design manager Ha Hak soo, and BMW 4 Series head designer Kang Won-kyu were all mentioned in the article. Additionally, there are over 30 Korean designers at GM’s studio referred to as the “Korean Mafia” or “K-team“, according to the story.

Christine Park (2nd from right) leads the three dozen strong group called "Korean Mafia" or "K-Team" at GM. (Korea Times file)

Christine Park (second from right) leads the three dozen-strong group called the “Korean Mafia” or “K-Team” at GM. (Korea Times)

A lot of credit was given to “a societal emphasis on external beauty – Korea has a thriving cosmetic surgery industry – and the impact of a 1990s comic book and television series called Asphalt Man, which starred Korean heartthrob Lee Byung-hun as a young car designer.” Lee Sangyup even admitted that the aspiring fictional designer “inspired a lot of kids, including me, at the time.”

Lim Bum-suk, a Korean native and a professor of car design at the Art Centre College of Design in Pasadena, California – widely regarded as the ‘Harvard of car design’ – was also quoted as saying, “A typical class of 12 to 15 students, more than half were Asian, and half of those were Korean.”

Still, the ex-BMW design chief Chris Bangle says the world is still waiting for Korea to produce the likes of Japan’s Ken Okuyama, who designed the Ferrari Enzo, and Shiro Nakamura, Nissan Motor’s chief designer.


  1. Rucy

    November 25, 2013 at 10:21 AM


  2. Mike Kim

    November 25, 2013 at 2:51 PM

    I heard even C7 Stingray was designed by a Korean designer! Awesome!

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