Hyundai looks to its history for the car of the future

As featured in our February 2020 Wallpaper* Design Awards Issue, Hyundai's latest concept car, the Hyundai 45, is a combination of intelligent interior design and eco-conscious engineering inspired by the company's historic 1970s icons

A design animation of a futuristic car
The Hyundai 45 electric concept car takes its name from the 45-degree angles of the front and rear window lines. Its lightweight design is inspired by 1920s aircraft. Photography: Maxime Guyon
(Image credit: Maxime Guyon)

It’s unusual to find a concept car with such purity of vision. One of the stars of 2019’s Frankfurt Auto Show, the all-electric Hyundai 45 design concept manages that rare trick of blending far-reaching innovations with nods to past glories. ‘It’s our EV vision,’ says SangYup Lee, head of the Hyundai Design Center. ‘In markets like Europe, we’re pushing really hard on electric vehicles. We're trying to nd the right design story.’ Lee admits that we’re living through a very ‘digitised era for transport’. In contrast, the 45 brings a bit of old-school charm back to car design. ‘We want our designs to be warm and inviting, which is why we’ve added analogue touches, inside and out,’ he says. 

The jumping off point for the new vehicle is Hyundai’s 1974 Pony Concept, a pioneering mono-box design by Giorgetto Giugiaro at Italdesign. It was part of his portfolio of 1970s icons, including the first Volkswagen Golf, that set the small-car design template for decades. ‘There are no mono-box cars these days,’ Lee laments, pointing out the plethora of SUVs and crossovers that have taken their place. ‘There’s a bit of nostalgia for our first concept,’ he admits, but while the Pony Concept had an angular, wedge-shaped stance, the 45 is rather more refined, with surfaces, creases and folds that were simply impossible all those years ago.

Nevertheless, 45-degree angles are still plentiful, a sharp contrast to the organic forms of much contemporary car design. The slim LED lamp patterns, front and rear, evoke blocky 8-bit graphics. Even the off set ‘Hyundai’ logo is another nod to the 1970s. ‘We had a lot of fun developing the car,’ Lee admits. Inside, the long cabin and flat floor give the car the feel of a living space, not a vehicle. ‘It almost feels like the lounge in your own home,’ Lee says. Careful use of natural light and materials, with forms inspired by contemporary furniture, all add to the ambience.

While Hyundai recently announced $35bn of investment in autonomous mobility and new drivetrain technology, the 45 reflects its more immediate focus of electrification – the Korean giant has hauled itself to the forefront of the EV market with cars like the Kona and Ioniq. ‘Some concept cars are what we call “flying carpets”,’ Lee says. ‘They look great but they are impossible [to build]. When you look at this car, it has. a definite potential. It means a lot to us.’ It could mean a lot more to the car buyer of the very near future.

February 2020 Wallpaper* Design Awards Issue

Jonathan Bell has written for Wallpaper* magazine since 1999, covering everything from architecture and transport design to books, tech and graphic design. He is now the magazine’s Transport and Technology Editor. Jonathan has written and edited 15 books, including Concept Car Design, 21st Century House, and The New Modern House. He is also the host of Wallpaper’s first podcast.