Detroit 2014: Discussing The Kia GT4 Stinger With Its Designer

Automobile Magazine’s design editor, Robert Cumberford, met up with Thomas Kearns, chief designer of Kia’s American design center, to discuss the new Kia GT4 Stinger concept car, which debuted at the 2014 Detroit auto show.

Robert Cumberford: This concept looks a lot like the 2005 Volkswagen EcoRacer, down to the color. Same roof treatment. Same headlight treatment. You didn’t see this? You made a Korean copy without knowing what you were copying?
Thomas Kearns: I wouldn’t call it a Korean copy.
RC: Where was it done?
TK: It was done in our California studio.
RC: I repeat what I said yesterday: nice car.

TK: Thank you. We started with a great platform and proportions. It’s got a great wheelbase, a low hood. It’s got a short overhangs. So my brief to the design team was…keep it simple. Sort of a less is more instead of a more is more approach.
RC: I like the see-through A-pillar. We saw the same idea years ago with the Volvo Safety Concept, but this is better executed. And it’s really important, with A-pillars getting so thick…
TK: …And not because designers want them that way but because safety requirements, airbags, and this and that. They’ve gotten bigger and bigger. If we can work with engineering to solve that problem, it would be very helpful to the customer.
Another thing you might not recognize instantly on the car is some subtle detail. You see this stepped carbon fiber pattern that’s sort of repeated throughout the car. even the front grille. And then if you walk around the rear of the car.
[Walks to back of car] Again, very clean very simple.

RC: Can you bend glass to do that?
TK: In production, I’m not sure. You could certainly put a cutline. Or you could do it in plastic or put a spoiler there.
RC: Well, one of the things I like about the car is there is no spoiler. It’s excess on many cars. Why does the fender dip?
TK: We actually had it modeled straight across. It just seemed a little static. We just wanted to give it a little accent. It’s kind of a Kia shape—our signature grille has that shape.
I mentioned the shapes on the exterior over the wheels. We picked up on that in the instrument panel to get the interior and exterior coming together. And then also that repeating step pattern around the center stack and the vents, and even in the backs of the seat. Some of the sheet metal we left painted on the inside.

RC: Can I sit inside?
TK: Yes.
RC: When I started in the business, it was considered chic to have a thin steering-wheel rim. This is too thick. The thicker one is better, but a number of people have overdone it. The worst was a couple of years ago—the 2007 Ford Interceptor sedan concept.
TK: I have a couple of classic cars with the thin rims. There’s something to be said for it. Maybe because the steering’s so light as well, it kind of goes together. It feels nice.
RC: People haven’t changed a great deal, and hands work well with certain things. I was interested in the visibility. It’s quite good. It’s a safety plus. I assume you could even make the pillar as a steel forging. Is that something that could make production?
TK: I would like it to. To be honest, it’s a concept and we haven’t gotten into the nuts and bolts of actually trying to make it work for production, but I think it’s a problem that needs to be solved.

RC: You’re right. I hope management works up its nerve to build something like this. It would be good for the company and it would be nice on the market.
TK: When we designed it we always have the intention [of production] in the hope that if management gives something the green light, we can get to production without huge [changes]. We try to have a little restraint and not do something that’s too pie in the sky so that if it is greenlighted we can get there, maybe 95 percent [of what the concept is].
RC: Did Peter Schreyer come to see you during the process?
TK: Yes, he came one time and I see him every month in Korea.
RC: That’s tough. You have to go twelve times a year to Korea?
TK: This time I didn’t have to go November or December so I think I only went ten times [laughs]. I think I’m close to one hundred stamps on my passport to Korea.