Peter Schreyer: The Visionary Aesthete

Peter Schreyer’s decision in 2006 to leave Volkswagen for Kia left many scratching their heads. People wondered why someone would descend from the heights of car design to join a relatively faceless brand on the other side of the planet. But he couldn’t have done anything better. Because Peter Schreyer is a visionary. And he recognizes an opportunity when he sees one.
  • Text
    Bernd Haase
  • Photos
    Gestalten

There’s this saying in German: “You haven’t got a chance. So use it!” What that means is that you have to recognize non-existent opportunities as such in order to seize them. It’s 1975. Peter Schreyer, a young man from Bad Reichenhall, has just been turned down by the art academy in Munich and is wondering if perhaps he should help out in the family business, a farm with a successful inn, after all. He will do that on the side anyway, but for now Peter Schreyer wanders aimlessly through Munich’s university district when he comes across a poster advertising a course of study in industrial design at the Munich University of Applied Sciences. Peter Schreyer doesn’t have a clear idea of what industrial design is all about, nor does he see it as a career opportunity. But he thinks, “Why not?”

Some thirty years later, Peter Schreyer is driving through Austria to St. Moritz in Switzerland for a presentation when his phone rings. This time, he immediately recognizes the opportunity that presents itself. By now, the young man in search of his way in life has become a recognized car designer. After studying industrial design in Munich and transportation design at the Royal College of Art in London, he spent over twenty-­five years in various positions working for Audi and the Volkswagen Group. He was responsible for the VW Golf IV as well as the New Beetle, the Audi A2 and the Audi TT. The name Peter Schreyer has a good reputation in the industry. As Volkswagen Group’s head of design, he is in charge of the automaker’s full range of design activities. It really doesn’t get much better than that. Nevertheless, Peter Schreyer accepts the offer presented to him that day in 2006 and becomes chief design officer of Kia.

To put it in perspective: At the time, the Korean brand has a reputation for – let’s say – conventional economy cars, while the Volkswagen Group is home to brands like Lamborghini, Bentley, Bugatti and Porsche. More than a few people shake their heads in disbelief.

Peter Schreyer loves rebelling against conventions. He likes Frank Zappa’s absurd lyrics and Cy Twombly’s wandering abstractions. So what is his recipe for success? Generosity. Equanimity. Strength.

To cut a long story short: Ever since Schreyer has been in charge of the Korean company’s design, sales figures have almost tripled and the automotive group rose to become one of the world’s top five automotive companies – thanks in part to Schreyer’s work, as countless design awards attest. Today Schreyer is not only head of design at Kia, he is also president and head of design management at Hyundai Motor Group with its three brands Hyundai, Kia and Genesis. He is the first non-European on the board. His name is renowned even beyond the automotive world, and he has even established himself as an artist – though that is actually what he has always been.

Perhaps as early as June 15, 1958, when five-year-old Peter, sitting in his parents’ inn, grabs a pencil and a waiter’s pad and begins to draw. A tractor. A loader. A bulldozer. Vehicles with four wheels, the kind he sees in his immediate surroundings. Peter Schreyer grows up on a farm. He often spends Sundays with his grandparents. His grandfather is a carpenter, but also paints watercolors. The small workshop where he often takes his grandson is a source of inspiration for Peter Schreyer to this day. There, with the smell of wood, glue and oil paints, the boy learns how to give shape to his imagination. Toys and model airplanes are built, pictures are painted. “Your origins are a treasure that you can draw on for a lifetime,” says the now sixty-eight-year-old Schreyer, who has remained wonderfully modest throughout the years.

When Peter Schreyer arrives at Kia, he finds a large, white canvas in front of him. Like any good artist, he starts with the face.

Cars also play an important role here in this most southeastern corner of Germany. It is the time of the popular hill climbing races. The international Gaisberg Hill Climb in neighboring Salzburg is a regional highlight until 1969. And then there are the airplanes. Directly behind Gasthof Obermühle, his parents’ inn, is the Reichenhall-Mayerhof airfield. There Schreyer sees the propeller-driven Klemms and Pipers take off and land, and the pilots stop off at his parents’ inn after completing their flight. At the age of thirty, Peter Schreyer himself will acquire a pilot’s license and experience this indescribable feeling of freedom.

Pushing the limits. This is also what fascinates the adolescent about artists like Salvador Dalí and Giorgio de Chirico. He begins to imitate their style in his own drawings and paintings. Later, he comes across the abstract expressionist Cy Twombly. In Twombly’s raw, seemingly random paintings, Schreyer recognizes a great technical skill, but above all: “Twombly consistently went his own way without thinking about what critics had to say about it.” That Peter Schreyer discovers and is fascinated by Frank Zappa in the early seventies seems only logical. A quote of the avant-garde musician has burned itself into the designer’s memory: “Without deviation, progress is not possible.”

A project of love. Work on the Kia Stinger (right) began with the Kia GT Concept (left) in 2011. With its transaxle drive concept and fastback design, it was a very atypical promise from the Korean brand that was finally delivered in 2017.
A project of love. Work on the Kia Stinger (right) began with the Kia GT Concept (left) in 2011. With its transaxle drive concept and fastback design, it was a very atypical promise from the Korean brand that was finally delivered in 2017.
Bernd Haase

Bernd Haase

Head of Text & Editor
He had a very clear career plan from a very early age: He wanted to be a rock star. Then he was allowed to join the school band. Because he wrote the lyrics (and because nobody, but really nobody, wanted to play bass). But it didn't last long. He switched basses with his father's Triumph Adler, realised that it also sounded nice, and decided to write about the dark side of the music business. But it turned out to be an internship at the local newspaper. Stayed quite a long time. It was much more exciting than I thought. After that, I worked as an editor for various newspapers, covering the finer things from cinema to music to travel. I also came across ramp. And stayed. It really is as exciting as I thought.
ramp #56 Alles zu seiner Zeit

ramp #56 Alles zu seiner Zeit

Alle Entscheidungshysteriker müssen jetzt tapfer sein, die Bewohner der Führungsetagen der Wirtschaftswelt sowieso. Denn nirgends ist die Kultur eines besinnungslosen Aktionismus so endemisch wie hier.

Similar articles

Our Bestsellers

  • ramp #64 How About That!
    ramp #64 How About That!
    20,00 EUR
    Surprises open our eyes to new things, which now isn't really a big surprise. The unexpected simply stays in memory longer, sparks curiosity – and prompts action. Essential for adapting to a changing world. The future might just be warming up for progress. It's meant to move forward effectively.
  • rampstyle #31 Isn't That Something?
    rampstyle #31 Isn't That Something?
    20,00 EUR
    Focusing on the essentials, blocking out everything else... If you’re focused, you’ve already mastered one important key skill. In our multimodal world, focus is, unfortunately, a rather limited resource. In particularly focused moments, we forget all about time. But do we run the risk of developing tunnel vision? Does focus lose its power over time? Do we become habituated? Far from it. Unexpected surprises? Bring ‘em on!
  • ramp #63 Happy on the Road
    ramp #63 Happy on the Road
    20,00 EUR
    Happy on the road? You bet. For any respectable car culture magazine, after all, being happy on the road is a mandatory prerequisite. Over time, and with a little bit of luck (which is, after all, a close relative of happiness), these feelings cheerfully blossom into an emotional foundation that ...
  • rampstyle #30 Blue Skies
    rampstyle #30 Blue Skies
    20,00 EUR
    After “All Summer Long” here’s our follow-up issue with the title “Blue Skies”. Of course. Because readers who know a little something about the English singer and songwriter Chris Rea will have already noticed how we’ve come full circle here. The blue sky as a symbol of hopeful optimism about what’s to come.
  • ramp #62 Wild Things
    ramp #62 Wild Things
    20,00 EUR
    Just heading along, the journey itself a wonderfully blank page that presents itself to us with a cheerful unpredictability, as an inspired playing field for trial and error, for curiosity and spontaneity, unexpected surprises and flights of fancy. Wild and untamed. Just like life itself.
  • Director’s Cut: Luxury
    Director’s Cut: Luxury
    125,00 EUR
    Luxury is enticing and exciting, polarizing and provocative, not to mention that it is good for the economy. But the essence of luxury goes far beyond the material. Luxury appeals to our senses, our dreams and our desires. It immediately evokes images that are as precise as they are diverse. Luxury also triggers some pretty clear opinions – both favorable and unfavorable.
  • rampstyle #29 All Summer Long
    rampstyle #29 All Summer Long
    20,00 EUR
    Barcelona in summer. With Alvaro Soler - and a Porsche 911 SC. An approach to the phenomenon and the person Yves Saint Laurent. We spoke with Udo Kier in Palm Springs, and Luc Donckerwolke in his garage. And then there's the cover - and the associated story of House of Spoils.
  • Porsche 911 Everlasting Love Stories
    Porsche 911 Everlasting Love Stories
    99,00 EUR
    Sixty years of the Porsche 911 – sixty years that stand for very personal, highly emotional relationships of love involving this sports car. Stories marked by love, lust and passion. Captured in this high-quality illustrated book.
  • ramp #61 Love Is in the Air
    ramp #61 Love Is in the Air
    20,00 EUR
    Blue skies, the scent of fresh grass, the warmth of the moment – but above all: sunshine. The light of the sun’s rays, scientists say, is the decisive factor at the beginning of the warm season that triggers the merry mix of happiness hormones which energetically drive us headlong into the summer.
  • rampstyle #27 By the Way
    rampstyle #27 By the Way
    20,00 EUR
    Did you know that between thirty and fifty percent of all scientific discoveries are the result of coincidence? Velcro, Viagra, X-rays – sometimes people find things without even looking for them, but they are rewarded with an unexpected alternative.
  • rampstyle #28 Into the Great Wide Open
    rampstyle #28 Into the Great Wide Open
    20,00 EUR
    An exclusive fashion editorial with Tim Bendzko. Unseen pictures by photographer Anouk Masson Krantz. A conversation with star director Guy Ritchie and a somewhat different interview with musician Dan Auerbach. All this and much more awaits you in this issue of rampstyle.
  • Director’s Cut: The Lamborghini Book
    Director’s Cut: The Lamborghini Book
    100,00 EUR
    Author texts, expert interviews and aesthetically pleasing imagery do the brand justice in all aspects and make the book a must-have for all car fans and Lamborghini enthusiasts. Alongside exclusive design sketches, an overview of all series models with full technical specifications completes this extraordinary and ambitious book project.
  • The Lamborghini Book
    The Lamborghini Book
    100,00 EUR
    Author texts, expert interviews and aesthetically pleasing imagery do the brand justice in all aspects and make the book a must-have for all car fans and Lamborghini enthusiasts. An overview of all series models with full technical specifications completes this extraordinary and ambitious book project.
  • ramp #60 Too Cool to Handle.
    ramp #60 Too Cool to Handle.
    20,00 EUR
    A magazine about coolness? Among other things. But one thing at a time. First of all, it’s off to the movies. There’s this businessman from Boston who helps relieve a bank of a substantial amount of money. The insurance companies are on to him, but they can’t prove a thing. That, in a nutshell, is the plot of...
  • ramp #59 Tomorrow Is Yesterday
    ramp #59 Tomorrow Is Yesterday
    18,00 EUR
    “Tomorrow Is Yesterday” was the title of an episode of the television series Star Trek, and although it was the nineteenth episode overall, it was the first to flicker into German living rooms fifty years ago this May. The story revolved around timelines and time travel.
  • rampstyle #26 Good News
    rampstyle #26 Good News
    15,00 EUR
    Two thin ovals far up inside a circle, a curved arc below, sketched on sunny yellow. In a split second, our brain has combined the elements into a smiling face, instantly putting us in a good mood. Wonderful! A smiley like that just feels good.
  • Men’s manual - Best of rampstyle by Michael Köckritz
    Men’s manual - Best of rampstyle by Michael Köckritz
    29,00 EUR
    Existential questions are answered here: How do I build the perfect sandcastle? How do I start a band? Is there a perfect record player? (Spoiler Alert: yes, there is). Men´s manual is a supergroup of sorts: ramp and teNeues throw together their concentrated expertise in lifestyle.
  • ramp #64 How About That!
    ramp #64 How About That!
    20,00 EUR
    Surprises open our eyes to new things, which now isn't really a big surprise. The unexpected simply stays in memory longer, sparks curiosity – and prompts action. Essential for adapting to a changing world. The future might just be warming up for progress. It's meant to move forward effectively.
  • rampstyle #31 Isn't That Something?
    rampstyle #31 Isn't That Something?
    20,00 EUR
    Focusing on the essentials, blocking out everything else... If you’re focused, you’ve already mastered one important key skill. In our multimodal world, focus is, unfortunately, a rather limited resource. In particularly focused moments, we forget all about time. But do we run the risk of developing tunnel vision? Does focus lose its power over time? Do we become habituated? Far from it. Unexpected surprises? Bring ‘em on!
  • ramp #63 Happy on the Road
    ramp #63 Happy on the Road
    20,00 EUR
    Happy on the road? You bet. For any respectable car culture magazine, after all, being happy on the road is a mandatory prerequisite. Over time, and with a little bit of luck (which is, after all, a close relative of happiness), these feelings cheerfully blossom into an emotional foundation that ...
  • rampstyle #30 Blue Skies
    rampstyle #30 Blue Skies
    20,00 EUR
    After “All Summer Long” here’s our follow-up issue with the title “Blue Skies”. Of course. Because readers who know a little something about the English singer and songwriter Chris Rea will have already noticed how we’ve come full circle here. The blue sky as a symbol of hopeful optimism about what’s to come.
  • ramp #62 Wild Things
    ramp #62 Wild Things
    20,00 EUR
    Just heading along, the journey itself a wonderfully blank page that presents itself to us with a cheerful unpredictability, as an inspired playing field for trial and error, for curiosity and spontaneity, unexpected surprises and flights of fancy. Wild and untamed. Just like life itself.
  • Director’s Cut: Luxury
    Director’s Cut: Luxury
    125,00 EUR
    Luxury is enticing and exciting, polarizing and provocative, not to mention that it is good for the economy. But the essence of luxury goes far beyond the material. Luxury appeals to our senses, our dreams and our desires. It immediately evokes images that are as precise as they are diverse. Luxury also triggers some pretty clear opinions – both favorable and unfavorable.
  • rampstyle #29 All Summer Long
    rampstyle #29 All Summer Long
    20,00 EUR
    Barcelona in summer. With Alvaro Soler - and a Porsche 911 SC. An approach to the phenomenon and the person Yves Saint Laurent. We spoke with Udo Kier in Palm Springs, and Luc Donckerwolke in his garage. And then there's the cover - and the associated story of House of Spoils.
  • Porsche 911 Everlasting Love Stories
    Porsche 911 Everlasting Love Stories
    99,00 EUR
    Sixty years of the Porsche 911 – sixty years that stand for very personal, highly emotional relationships of love involving this sports car. Stories marked by love, lust and passion. Captured in this high-quality illustrated book.
  • ramp #61 Love Is in the Air
    ramp #61 Love Is in the Air
    20,00 EUR
    Blue skies, the scent of fresh grass, the warmth of the moment – but above all: sunshine. The light of the sun’s rays, scientists say, is the decisive factor at the beginning of the warm season that triggers the merry mix of happiness hormones which energetically drive us headlong into the summer.
  • rampstyle #27 By the Way
    rampstyle #27 By the Way
    20,00 EUR
    Did you know that between thirty and fifty percent of all scientific discoveries are the result of coincidence? Velcro, Viagra, X-rays – sometimes people find things without even looking for them, but they are rewarded with an unexpected alternative.
  • rampstyle #28 Into the Great Wide Open
    rampstyle #28 Into the Great Wide Open
    20,00 EUR
    An exclusive fashion editorial with Tim Bendzko. Unseen pictures by photographer Anouk Masson Krantz. A conversation with star director Guy Ritchie and a somewhat different interview with musician Dan Auerbach. All this and much more awaits you in this issue of rampstyle.
  • Director’s Cut: The Lamborghini Book
    Director’s Cut: The Lamborghini Book
    100,00 EUR
    Author texts, expert interviews and aesthetically pleasing imagery do the brand justice in all aspects and make the book a must-have for all car fans and Lamborghini enthusiasts. Alongside exclusive design sketches, an overview of all series models with full technical specifications completes this extraordinary and ambitious book project.
  • The Lamborghini Book
    The Lamborghini Book
    100,00 EUR
    Author texts, expert interviews and aesthetically pleasing imagery do the brand justice in all aspects and make the book a must-have for all car fans and Lamborghini enthusiasts. An overview of all series models with full technical specifications completes this extraordinary and ambitious book project.
  • ramp #60 Too Cool to Handle.
    ramp #60 Too Cool to Handle.
    20,00 EUR
    A magazine about coolness? Among other things. But one thing at a time. First of all, it’s off to the movies. There’s this businessman from Boston who helps relieve a bank of a substantial amount of money. The insurance companies are on to him, but they can’t prove a thing. That, in a nutshell, is the plot of...
  • ramp #59 Tomorrow Is Yesterday
    ramp #59 Tomorrow Is Yesterday
    18,00 EUR
    “Tomorrow Is Yesterday” was the title of an episode of the television series Star Trek, and although it was the nineteenth episode overall, it was the first to flicker into German living rooms fifty years ago this May. The story revolved around timelines and time travel.
  • rampstyle #26 Good News
    rampstyle #26 Good News
    15,00 EUR
    Two thin ovals far up inside a circle, a curved arc below, sketched on sunny yellow. In a split second, our brain has combined the elements into a smiling face, instantly putting us in a good mood. Wonderful! A smiley like that just feels good.
  • Men’s manual - Best of rampstyle by Michael Köckritz
    Men’s manual - Best of rampstyle by Michael Köckritz
    29,00 EUR
    Existential questions are answered here: How do I build the perfect sandcastle? How do I start a band? Is there a perfect record player? (Spoiler Alert: yes, there is). Men´s manual is a supergroup of sorts: ramp and teNeues throw together their concentrated expertise in lifestyle.