The year 1974 was one year before Hyundai Motor, then a tiny carmaker, built the first Korean-developed automobile, Pony.
The hatchback compact car opened the door for Hyundai to grow, but on the other hand, most of it was not made in Korea.
Pony originated from Hyundai Motor, now the world’s fifth-largest carmaker, but the car itself was a mere collaboration of foreign technology and funds at that time, with a design from Giorgetto Giugiaro of Italdesign, transmission and engine from Mitsubishi, machine press from France and funds from Barclays Banks.
After the launch of Pony, the mission Park faced was clear: Create the design identity and originality of the South Korean carmaker.
But there was nothing to learn about automobile design in Korea, simply because there was no such course available. Park left for the Royal College of Arts for a yearlong course -- his first proper education on car design. He was the first Korean to attend the British school.
After years of self-learning, Park’s first design, Hyundai’s Scoupe, hit the market in 1990. However, he was still unsatisfied.
“We felt so embarrassed when we had to present our works at motor shows because everyone participating in the shows were better than us,” he said. “Hyundai was not good enough to take the lead at that time. The carmaker lacked engine technology. … But design was what Hyundai could do better.”
In 1992, his concept car titled “HCD 1,” a two-seat sports vehicle with a bold design, won the best concept car award at the Detroit Motor Show. Feeling more confident, Park successfully presented Tiburon in 1996, another sports car, and the sports utility vehicle Santa Fe in 2000.
Sonata was a hit, helping Hyundai gain more presence in the global market in the 1990s.
In recognition of his contribution to South Korea’s automobile industry, he received a presidential merit in 1993 and the Brass-Tower Industry Prize in 1999.