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HYUNDAI Motor Group (HMG) chief design officer and executive vice-president Luc Donckerwolke has stepped down from his position after four years with the South Korean auto giant, citing personal reasons.

Overseas reports indicate that Mr Donckerwolke left the company at the end of last month, with SangYup Lee remaining head of design at Hyundai and Genesis while Karim Habib continues to lead the design centre at sister brand Kia.

Kia also announced late last month that former BMW Group designer Jochen Paesen would relocate from Europe to the car-maker’s design hub in Namyang, South Korea, to become its new vice-president of interior design, reporting to Mr Habib.

A successor to Mr Donckerwolke overseeing all HMG brands is still to be named.

In a statement, Mr Donckerwolke said it had been “an honour and privilege to contribute to the shaping of the future of Hyundai, Kia and Genesis”.

“Their audacious and progressive attitude has allowed me to push the boundaries and challenge the status quo,” he said.

There is no word yet on whether Mr Donckerwolke has secured a new position at a rival car manufacturer, but reports indicate that the Belgian-born designer, who rose to prominence with his work at premium European brands such as Audi and Lamborghini, has returned to his home base in Bavaria.

Highly regarded as one of the most influential designers in the industry, Mr Donckerwolke started his career as an intern at Peugeot in 1990 before moving to Audi two years later, sowing the seeds of a long and prestigious affiliation with the Volkswagen Group.

In 1994 he shifted studios to Skoda, where he penned the original Octavia mid-sized sedan and Fabia hatchback before returning to Audi and designing the iconic R8 Le Mans racer.

Four years later came a significant move to Lamborghini where, as head of design, he was responsible for the award-winning Murcielago in 2002 and its smaller Gallardo sibling in 2004.

In 2005, Mr Donckerwolke shifted again to become the chief designer at Seat, a position he held for six years before scoring the top job in advanced design for the entire Volkswagen Group in 2011.

After just a year in this role Mr Donckerwolke moved across to Bentley as the British luxury brand’s chief designer, a role which saw him credited with the design of the previous-generation Continental GT and Flying Spur, the first Bentayga SUV and the EXP10 Speed Six concept revealed in 2015.

When the opportunity arose in 2015 to join the Hyundai Group and be one of the driving forces behind its newly devised standalone Genesis brand, Mr Donckerwolke described it as the “offer of a lifetime” and jumped at the chance, officially starting work in mid-2016 alongside then chief design officer Peter Schreyer.

In 2018, Mr Donckerwolke succeeded Mr Schreyer and has since been credited with the design of various cars across the group including the all-new Kona compact SUV and every new Genesis model including the G80, GV80 and G90.

On the subject of Mr Donckerwolke’s shock departure, HMG head of research and development Albert Biermann reportedly said: “He has been a great inspiration for all of us, as a remarkable leader who successfully transformed the company’s design operations, taking it to the next level.”

By Callum Hunter

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