Kia Motors hires ex-BMW designer as style head

SEOUL (Reuters) - Kia Motors Corp 000270.KS has hired as its head of styling Pierre Leclercq, a former designer at BMW BMWG.DE and Great Wall Motor 601633.SS, in a move expected to help the South Korean automaker reverse its fortunes in its top market China.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Kia Motor is seen during an unveiling ceremony for Kia Motor's The New Soul in Seoul, South Korea, August 22, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/File photo

Kia and its affiliate Hyundai Motor 005380.KS, together the world's No.5 carmaker, have been grappling with declining sales in the world's top auto market due to political tensions between Seoul and Beijing, competition from Chinese brands and a dearth of popular sport utility vehicle (SUV) models.

As head of design for Great Wall Motors since 2013, Leclercq oversaw projects including a revamped Haval H6 SUV that was “well-received for its refined design”, Kia Motors said in a statement on Thursday.

Leclercq also designed BMW’s SUV models X5 and X6 before overseeing the German automaker’s M performance sub-brand.

“Leclercq is one of few star designers who have experienced all of the major automobile markets including Europe, the United States and China,” Kia said.

The appointment comes just three months after Hyundai announced the recruitment of Simon Loasby, former director of Volkswagen VOWG_p.DE Group China, as its China design head.

Hyundai and Kia have seen their sales drop in two of their biggest markets, China and the United States, hurt by a sedan-heavy lineup in a market powered by SUVs.

In China, Hyundai’s sales fell 29 percent and Kia’s sales dropped 42 percent in the first half of 2017.

Belgian-born Leclercq will take up his new role at Kia the end of September, working in South Korea alongside Hyundai’s chief design officer Peter Schreyer, a former Audi designer, and head of Kia’s design center in Korea Youn Seon-ho.

Leclercq will be responsible for developing Kia’s long-term design strategy, while strengthening cooperation between its design networks in the United States, Europe, China and Korea.

Leclercq should help reinforce the design of Kia’s SUV line-up, especially in China, said Sang Alexander Koo, a professor and former designer with Kia.

“As he worked for a Chinese company, he knows what kinds of design Chinese people like.”

Reporting by Hyunjoo Jin; Editing by Himani Sarkar