Interview: Genesis Chief on the Planning and Future of Korea’s First Ever Luxury-Car ""
Posted on: September 20, 2017

The Genesis G70 sports sedan has just been revealed, and we’ve driven it. While it’s already clear Genesis will have its hands full launching the rear- and all-wheel-drive G70, it’s also clear that this is very much the tip of the iceberg. A new player aiming to shake up the luxury market, with deep resources courtesy of corporate parent Hyundai and executive ranks stuffed with established industry players, Genesis plans a flurry of new products. During conversations in South Korea and during the recent Monterey Car Week in California, the global head of Genesis, Manfred Fitzgerald, gave us the most in-depth look yet at what we can expect.

The locations for these conversations—in Seoul, and overlooking the shimmering Pacific Ocean on the Monterey Peninsula—are not without significance. There were both contradictions and a deliberate message in Genesis’s presence at Pebble Beach, one of the automotive industry’s most glamorous, prestigious events. Monterey Car Week—with its collection of auctions, concours, parties, displays, chatter, and pomp—celebrates heritage, history, design, and motoring through the lens of the world’s most storied automotive brands. Meanwhile, Genesis soon will celebrate its birthday with a cake sporting precisely two candles. What’s more, the automaker is looking to globally brand luxury from Korea, a country that doesn’t really have an identifiable luxury brand. None of that is lost on Fitzgerald, the one-time director of brand and design for Lamborghini who now spearheads the new automaker’s global operations.

One quick chat about Genesis became a spirited, hour-long discussion on the significance of this moment for a brand looking to create and shape an identity in a rapidly changing industry. Fitzgerald doesn’t mince words, and he’s open, realistic, and ambitious. Genesis has the mission of showing the world not only what Korean automotive luxury will look like, but Korean luxury, period.

We asked the Genesis head what the important first steps are. “It’s been 20 months now, and really running at a fast pace, but the first year and steps were about defining who we are, our vision, our values. If you only try to reduce it to product, you’re not going to go very far. This applies beyond the auto industry as well, but when people come up with the equation that brand equals product and product equals brand, it can all go wrong. We wanted to get our vision out and start it off on the right foot.”

Fitzgerald said the second thing the company wants to do is avoid a big misstep common to brands that are part of a major OEM. “If you’re coming from a big volume brand, it’s important to separate your division.” Across the industry, from Acura to Audi, and from Lincoln to Lexus, there are varying degrees of success for Genesis to examine. “It has taken some brands 20 years, and they’re still trying to figure it out. So it’s important to get that right from the beginning. You want to give buyers or potential buyers the confidence to know you’re serious about this.”

2018 Gensis G80 Sport

He also came across as realistic about where Genesis is now and about what it takes to create a new brand. “This is a natural process. In building up a brand you can’t flick a switch and say, ‘Okay, here we are, this is it.’ A brand has to evolve, and it starts with the fundamentals. You have to lay out a foundation on which this brand can grow. We have our work cut out for us. In the U.S. right now, we’re nowhere in terms of awareness, but with that we’re not doing too bad in terms of sales, so I’m happy with that. We’ve seen once people get to know the brand and the products and what we’re doing, they’re very happy. But this is only the beginning.”

Looking ahead, we asked Fitzgerald a few questions about what’s to come for Genesis in the next few years, beyond the automaker’s public statement that it will have six vehicles by 2021. The G70 is the third model in that cadence, after the G80 and the G90, with the GV80 SUV based on the concept shown at the New York auto show earlier this year being next, for 2019 or 2020. A smaller GV70 crossover based on the G70 will arrive for 2019 or 2020 as well, and we expect an EV to be the sixth model. (Additionally, a G90 facelift is scheduled for the end of 2018, an all-new G80 for 2019, and an all-new G90 for 2020 or 2021.) But there also were a few new details that have not been previously discussed.

Car and Driver: Hyundai is a prominent player in both fuel-cell and electric cars. What’s the role for electric or other power sources in Genesis vehicles?

Manfred Fitzgerald: Electric is a must for all OEMs. One thing for sure is that alternative propulsion has to be at the center of this Genesis brand as well. What we as OEMs will encounter is, the markets will have different maturities. This may be due to legislation or customer preference, and some markets will be very, very advanced in terms of electrification while others could care less about it. That said, we at Genesis have it very easy, because we can tap into the resources of the mother brand when we deem appropriate. That’s going to be developed anyway, because that is a must for any big OEM like the Hyundai Motor Group. So when we need it is up to us to decide.

2018 Gensis G80 Sport


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Anything already planned?

Yes, there is. We’re going to have our first electric-vehicle dedicated platform coming out in 2021.

Talking to the product and design teams, we gather there may be something special—a coupe—in the works. What can you tell us about that?

A two-door coupe, or a GT coupe, is something which is the darling of each and every designer. I think it’s the most emotional car that you can actually do. From that point of view, it’s pretty logical to do such a vehicle. We have it on our table right now and are contemplating how this all will pan out, and when it should come. So, definitely, if you want to be really respected and regarded as a true competitor, you have to show that this brand has the breadth. You have to show that you have more than one model, and each one has its significance and relevance and caters to a certain group. We’re not in this sort of—as [design chief] Luc [Donckerwolke] is always referring to it—Russian-doll concept where you’re just scaling down a vehicle in different sizes. That’s not us. Each model that we bring should have its own character and its own purpose. [Genesis and ArtCenter recently collaborated on a student project centered around  designing a Genesis GT car for 2025.]

Proportion-wise, would such a vehicle be analogous to the G70, G80, or G90 in size?

All of those which you mentioned could be options. But there’s also the possibility to put it on a new electrical-vehicle platform. And that gives you the total freedom to decide what you want to do there.

2017 Genesis G90

What internal discussions are taking place about consumers’ range expectations for EVs three or so years from now? Elon Musk has said he believes we could be double where we are at, so 500-plus miles.

I think that’s not so far-fetched. I believe if you look at what is proposed by the incumbent players right now, you have the second-generation vehicles coming out in 2018 to 2019 with higher energy density, longer range, and [that use up] less volume, which is great. Following that, you’ll see the next generation that is coming in two to three years, and if you take that into consideration, there’s going to be a lot happening in that sector in the next six years in terms of pricing, range, energy. I think everyone is wishing in six or seven years’ time you’ll have a similar range with what you have now in ICEs [internal-combustion engines].

Is electric already a foregone conclusion as the next alternative propulsion system, then?

Well, I think we all in the automotive industry are in agreement that the best technology would be fuel cell. Now, that said, it has to come at the right time. There has to be a willingness, infrastructure, and acceptance. Everyone knows that fuel cell is the technology which we want to all have, but we don’t have the infrastructure, and there’s not a huge inclination for the consumer to go that way because there’s great uncertainty. I think we’ll go the path of electrification first—hybrid and plug-ins to get to full EVs—and then ultimately fuel cells.

Genesis GV80 Concept

Have the powertrains for Genesis’s SUVs been determined yet?

Not yet. We’re looking at all options, and definitely hybridization and electrification, so that’s all on the table right now.

How will the GV80 concept translate to the production SUV?

Our SUV will be called the GV80, and I can tell you from the GV80 concept that we showed in New York, I think the production car looks even better. We tweaked it in a way that is going to be stunning. We tweaked it in how we treat the body and sheetmetal, and the design is altered, but with the overall proportions that we achieved, I think we have a winner. We have the G70 coming now, which will complete the sedan lineup. Then we’ll have the GV80 late in ’19 or beginning of ’20. Then we’ll show the electric car.

Is there a concrete vision for where you want Genesis to be in four or five years?

I actually look further down the road. Let’s say in five to 10 years’ time, if we can look back and say we contributed to establishing Made in Korea as a brand. There are some players in electronics, but to do it as a luxury brand, and to have this as a label there, I think we will have done a pretty awesome job. And there’s a lot going on in the luxury industry in Korea right now, so if we can help establish that, it will be a great achievement for us.

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