Exclusive: Hyundai design chief on the Genesis electric SUV promised for 2021

Genesis, Hyundai’s luxury brand, this month officially unveiled the GV80, its first sport-utility vehicle. It will launch in South Korea powered by a 3.0-liter six-cylinder diesel engine. However, Genesis said it would have three crossovers. MotorTrend reported this week that the third Genesis SUV will be an electric vehicle built next year on Hyundai’s new dedicated electric platform.

This news comes a few weeks after Hyundai executive vice chairman Euisun Chung said the Hyundai Group — which includes the Hyundai, Kia, and Genesis brands — will invest more than $87 billion to produce 23 EVs by 2025.

At the GV80 reveal, CNET spoke with Albert Biermann, head of research and development division at Hyundai. Biermann also confirmed that the new Hyundai platform will be used for EVs. “But we now shouldn’t talk about this today,” Biermann told CNET. “We want to have some surprise for you later.”

Genesis GV80 sport-utility vehicle

The Genesis EV will be a crossover variant of the GV80.

Although I dismissed it at the time, when I chatted at last year’s Geneva Motor Show with Luc Donckerwolke, Hyundai’s chief design, he was already confirming a Genesis EV.

Genesis will also be electric, but we will have different ways of expressing an electric design, depending on what customers we want to attain. Some cars will definitely be daring, and some will be provocative. Others will be classical. We have different customers, and electrification will emphasize the differences between those types of customers.

In that March 2019 chat, Donckerwolke said he was just finishing up the designs of Hyundai Group electric vehicles going into production in 2021. Notably, he said that 75% of his time was spent working on designs influenced by electrification and, to a lesser extent, autonomy. “It’s going to shift really fast,” he said.

Donckerwolke was already hinting that Hyundai’s electric technology would favor SUVs over sedans.

I think electfication will be more difficult for sedans. Because you have five to six inches of batteries, like the soul of a shoe basically, with the electric skateboard. That’s influencing the proportions of the vehicle.

He was excited about the possibility of new types of cabin experiences in an EV. “By taking away the transmission tunnel, the cockpit can become more like a living room,” he said. Donckerwolke added that the lack of an engine note, which historically made an emotional connection with gearheads, “will force us to be more extroverted in style.”

Genesis GV80 sport-utility vehicle

Genesis GV80 sport-utility vehicle

All these comments provide some hope that a Genesis EV will be anything but bland. We already know that Kia confirmed a 2021 production date for its sporty Imagine concept.

Kia Imagine concept in geneva

The electric Kia Imagine concept in Geneva

Genesis, and its sister brands, could have other surprises in store. The conversation in Geneva got futuristic when it came to plugging in and using electricity as a fuel.

Electricity is data. That means you can interchange data by having a flow of electricity between vehicles. Let’s says you go to the airport, and you leave your car at LAX for a one-week trip. And your car is fully charged. You don’t need electricity when you are there, so why can’t you sell your electricity?

Donckerwolke was not clear about how plugging in, inductive charging, or V2G will change vehicle design. He said that ICE drivers only open the gas-filler once a week or so, there’s no reason to modify that design. But because EV drivers plug in every day or even multiple times a day, it calls for a new approach.

Come on, guys, we’ve been doing it this way for a long time. I see that the potential to address that issue in a different way. You have to start thinking about it.

Electrek’s Take

None of Donckerwolke’s comments, or even the announcement about a Genesis electric SUV, are earth-shattering. And of course, we have to be skeptical about Hyundai Group’s EV plans until they actually deliver a vehicle to the market and sell it at scale across the United States.

After all, it’s already been three years since Hyundai executive vice president Kwang-guk Lee said there would be “an electric sedan under its high-end Genesis brand in 2021 with a range of 500 km (310 miles) per charge.”

But between that announcement, this week’s news, and evidence that Hyundai was finalizing Genesis EV designs more than a year ago, there’s hope that a compelling electric vehicle from a new player is eventually coming down the pike.

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Avatar for Bradley Berman Bradley Berman

Bradley writes about electric cars, autonomous vehicles, smart homes, and other tech that’s transforming society. He contributes to The New York Times, SAE International, Via magazine, Popular Mechanics, MIT Technology Review, and others.