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Hyundai Hires BMW Design Director Chris Chapman To Be Chief Designer

Hyundai continues its evolution as a major player in automotive manufacturing with its hiring of Christopher Chapman, BMW's director of automotive design, to be its new chief designer at Hyundai America Technical Center in Irvine, Calif.

Less than five years ago it would have been preposterous to think a BMW design director would depart for a Korean company like Hyundai or its sibling Kia. This hiring, even more than a North American Car of the Year Award for the Genesis back in 2009.

Chapman has worked on some major BMW designs since joining the German manufacturer back in 1994. at DesignworksUSA in Newbury Park, California. Among the variety of concept and production programs, he designed the exteriors of the X5 Sport Activity Vehicle and X Coupe concept car. He relocated to Munich, Germany for a two-year assignment to immerse in the BMW culture. There he also designed the CS1 concept shown at the Geneva Auto Salon in 2002, followed by the 1 Series production Coupe and its derivatives.

Immersing himself in the BMW culture helped advance his career quickly. In 2002, Chris was appointed Director of Automotive Design and has been responsible for guiding several advanced and production vehicles including the new X5, X3, Z4 and the first BMW 1-series E87. Since 2008, Chapman has additionally directed the Transportation Design department, which includes Designworks’ external partners in aviation, marine, and public mobility.

Hyundai has hired a design chief with experience in U.S. and Europe, as well as a background working for a Japanese company. Chapman joined Isuzu (remember them?) Technical Center of America in Cerritos, Calif. in 1989 and was the designer selected for the exterior of the XU-1 show car, which won Best Concept at its 1993 Tokyo Motor Show debut.

Of course John Krafcik, president and CEO of Hyundai Motor America is going to wax enthusiastic about his new hire but there's some truth to his hyperbole. “Christopher Chapman is an outstanding addition to the design team at HATCI,” said Krafcik. “We are proud to add such a talented individual to lead the team of dedicated designers at HATCI that will continue to develop innovative vehicles for both the United States and global auto markets.” Hyundai, in addition to California and Korea, maintains a design studio in Rüsselsheim, Germany.

A native of Pasadena, Calif., Chapman graduated from Art Center College of Design with a Bachelor of Science degree in Transportation Design. He replaces Phil Zak, who came from GM and lasted only two years as chief designer before returning to GM to be its design director for crossover exteriors.