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Hyundai Woos Top GM designer

Could imports tap Big 3 troubles and steal Detroit's best?

by on Apr.03, 2009

Veteran GM Designer Phil Zak, shown here with his '05 Chevrolet Cobalt, is moving to Hyundai.

GM Designer Phil Zak, with his 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt, is moving to Hyundai.

General Motors has lost another top designer to a Korean competitor. Hyundai America Technical Center has announced that Phillip Zak has been named chief designer of the Hyundai Design Center in Irvine, California.  Zak will be responsible for new vehicle and concept design for Hyundai, officials for the Korean automaker said.

Though design departments have been among the most protected operations in Detroit, the domestic industry’s ongoing problems – and the appeal of the new – threaten to lead to a brain drain from Detroit’s styling studios, industry observers caution.

“Phillip’s strong experience in working across multiple regions and his leadership role on advanced projects was exactly what we were looking for,” said C.K. Park, president, HATCI.  “We are thrilled to have Phillip Zak as chief designer for Hyundai and continue the strong momentum of our vehicle designs.”

Zak has more than 20 years of automotive design experience at GM and most recently served as the design director for General Motors Europe where he was responsible for all Opel and Saab exterior production design work and future strategies.  Zak started his career at General Motors in 1988 as a designer sketching new vehicle concepts.  During his 20-year career at General Motors he held various positions including lead designer, chief designer and design manager.

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Bangle Bails on BMW

by on Feb.03, 2009

Chris Bangle with the dramatic -- and controversial -- 2002 BMW 7-Series

Chris Bangle speaks his mind at Geneva Motor Show

“It’s all about design.” As an automotive journalist, you hear that phrase a lot, especially at auto shows and new product previews, whether you’re looking at the latest luxury car or something more basic. Yet, by and large, designers are a relatively anonymous lot, with only the rare Harley Earl gaining a place in the collective consciousness.

Chris Bangle is another name that has risen beyond the automotive headlines. After all, how many other designers have earned profiles on network TV – CBS Sunday Morning, for one – or been the motivation behind a popular online fan site. Make that anti-fans, if you prefer, for there were several online efforts to force Bangle out as global head of styling at BMW after the automaker launched a controversial remake of its flagship 7-Series sedan, early in the decade.

Ultimately – and ironically – that car’s most distinctive design, known to many as the “Bangle-butt,” has become more the norm than the exception in the luxury market, these days. And with the launch of yet another remake of the 7-er, for 2009, Bangle and his team have largely won over even the harshest skeptics.

And so, it might seem, a good time to move on – as Bangle is doing. In something of a surprise, the youthful 52-year-old stylist tendered his resignation as head of design for the BMW Group, this morning, Munich time. According to a statement, he’ll be pursuing “other design challenges” beyond the automotive industry.

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