German designer Peter Schreyer, known as the creative brain behind the Audi TT, will oversee both Kia <000270.KS> and Hyundai's <005380.KS> designs, the Hyundai automotive group said on Sunday, as the carmaker seeks to outdo German rivals Volkswagen and BMW.
Schreyer's star is rising fast at the South Korean company, where only three weeks ago he was named a president at Kia, the first foreigner to hold the post. He was promoted from chief design officer and executive vice president at Kia.
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He will assume the newly created role to oversee the design of both Hyundai and Kia, which together make up the world's fifth biggest automaker. The design operations of the two carmakers had been run by separate design chiefs.
Kia, acquired by Hyundai Motor in 1998 during the Asian financial crisis, has been expanding sales at a faster pace than Hyundai Motor in markets such as the United States and Europe.
Schreyer's new appointments coincide with Hyundai Motor's efforts to move up market and boost margins.
A Hyundai spokesman on Sunday cited the group's need "to more clearly set up each automaker's own, unique brand color".
"President Peter Schreyer, with abundant design experience at world-renowned automakers and deep comprehension of Hyundai-Kia's corporate culture, will play a great role in consolidating the foundation for Hyundai Motor and Kia Motors to take a leap towards a top-class automaker," the spokesman, who was not named, said in a statement.
The promotion is a clear sign of the automotive group's ambition to outdo German rivals Volkswagen AG and BMW in design - a key part of a strategy that has helped the South Korean duo ramp up sales and gain market share even during the global economic downturn in 2009.
Schreyer joined Kia from Volkswagen in 2006.
Born in Germany in 1953, the former Audi designer was reportedly brought in by then Kia president Chung Eui-sun - the only son and heir apparent of the 74-year-old Hyundai Motor Chairman Chung Mong-koo.
Before joining Kia, Schreyer thought Kia's designs were "neutral." He went on to create a "tiger-nose" grille for Kia, and in one stroke, gave a distinct face to Kia models ranging from the small Picanto to the Forte and Optima sedans.
Industrial data showed on Sunday that last year's combined sales by Hyundai and Kia in Germany stood at nearly 155,700 units which made the duo the top exporter of automobiles in the biggest European market.
The Hyundai-Kia team sold a total of 7.12 million vehicles worldwide in 2012, up 8 percent from the previous year and more than their original goal of 7 million. It has said the duo's global sales target for 2013 is a combined 7.41 million.
(Editing by Jeremy Laurence)