College for Creative Studies: Transportation Design


Hoon Kim

General Motors/PATAC

Exterior Design Manager

What do legendary animator Walt Disney and automotive designer Hoon Kim have in common? The power to evoke emotion in millions of people around the world.

“When I think about my career as a car designer, it reminds me of the black and white film of young Walt Disney, childishly (in a good way) explaining how his series of Mickey Mouse line drawings become 'alive' in motion pictures,” explained Kim. “He was completely convinced that children and adults have special places in their heart for his invention, Mickey Mouse, who delivers happiness.

“This is the same feeling I get when I see a stranger behind the wheel of an automobile that once was only an idea on a piece of paper. It is a fantastic feeling. It’s what keeps me going.”

Like the changing Disney characters over the past decades, cars reveal the era in which they were designed. Kim finds this fascinating.

“Architecture changes slowly, but cars change every few years,” he said. “Park the cars from the 1940s on a street in Manhattan and take a picture. You can fool most people into thinking it’s a picture from 1945. They completely change the look of a city’s landscape! You could say that car designers are, in a way, trend forecasters because it takes three to four years to bring a sketch to the road. Very cool.”

Kim is currently on assignment at PATAC, General Motors production design center, in Shanghai. Since he started working for the automotive giant in 1998, he has been part of the Advanced, Buick, Chevrolet and Cadillac studios. He considers his contributions to the revolution of Cadillac to be his greatest career highlight (so far).

“I feel fortunate to have played a small part in Cadillac design renaissance through multiple production cars, including 2008 CTS, 2009 CTS-V, 2010 SRX, 2013 XTS, and 2016 CT6,” he said. “While my passion for Cadillac has not faded, being in Shanghai presents me a whole new interest which is the presence of American brands in China and understanding the Chinese market in general. The learning, at a personal level, has been tremendous. If any industrial designer reading this is on a fence for an opportunity in China, I strongly recommend taking it.”

After leaving his home in Korea, Kim came to North America to study design. He lived in Illinois for a few years and learned English, then moved to California. When the opportunity arose to study transportation design at CCS, nestled in the heart of the automotive industry, he was elated.

“One of CCS’s greatest strengths is its location. Detroit’s unique character and the city’s rich history of American automobile design are well worth learning. It gives designers a diverse perspective."

“I don’t think I will ever stop drawing cars. And I am as crazy about driving cars as I am about drawing them. Being able to challenge physics makes driving addictive. Whether I’m on the road or in the studio, cars will always be a part of what I do.”