DEARBORN, MI – On the job withDesign since January, Christopher Chapman considers himself lucky to work for an auto maker that for several years has been hitting homeruns – or at least doubles and triples – each time it steps to the plate.
Among its successes, the South Korean auto maker has developed a keen sense of interior styling, which first became evident with the launch of the ’09 Genesis luxury sedan.
As chief designer at theDesign Center in Irvine, CA, Chapman says he wants to maintain and evolve the dramatic, upscale “Fluidic Sculpture” styling language that permeates the exterior and interior of every Hyundai vehicle that has launched since then.
“It’s pretty amazing how far the brand has come in terms of quality,” Chapman tells WardsAuto when asked of his goal for Hyundai vehicle interiors. “My initial goal is to keep the quality up and at the right price.”
Chapman is in town this week for today’sat The Henry hotel here and to receive two Ward’s 10 Best Interiors awards on behalf of his staff for the Hyundai Azera and Accent.
Another top priority for Chapman is to further understand the human machine interface and its impact on future purchase decisions.
“I think all the interfaces in the car, in the future if not presently, will play a critical role in whether a vehicle is accepted by young people,” he says. “They’re used to smartphones and video games, and that element has to be in the car and in a natural way. It can’t be forced.”
He’s adamant these devices be integrated for simple use in the vehicle to minimize driver distraction. “If we don’t prioritize safety and focus the eyes on road…we will make it a lot more dangerous out there.”
Chapman, 46, spent 18 years at, including a 2-year assignment that took him and his family to Munich.
“That was an important component in my growth. I was asked to go there to learn about the company a bit more and follow a management track,” he says. “I went there, and five cars later, two years had passed.”
Chapman lived in a quiet rural village southeast of theheadquarters. He and his family embraced the culture. “Beer is like food there,” he says. “Even if you’re not a beer lover, you become one once you’re there.”
Growing up in Pasadena, CA, Chapman was planning to study architecture or mechanical engineering at UCLA. He read an article in 1984 in Smithsonian about the Art Center College of Design in his hometown, and he was riveted to page after page of car sketches.
“We took a trip to Art Center; I got a tour; I found out what it was all about; and I took a 90-degree turn right then and there,” Chapman says.
He graduated from Art Center with a bachelor of science degree in transportation design. His first job out of college was in Cerritos, CA, at theTechnical Center of America, where he met his wife.
In his new job, Chapman is looking for sharp, young, creative minds. Recruiting young people interested in designing vehicles is easy, but he says it’s hard finding ones with their own ideas, largely because the Internet is fertile ground for copycats.
“There are many more copyists out there as opposed to people with original ideas,” he says. “Enthusiasm is easy to find, but it’s difficult to find the folks who really love it and have original ideas to pursue. These people have to remember we hire them to be original.”
As he looks forward, Chapman says Hyundai “is on an amazing trajectory,” and he has no concern the auto maker has reached its peak.
“The company does not want to prioritize sales and volume over quality,” Chapman says. “We will have some refocus on quality to make sure the standards are held high.”