From a very early age I knew I had a passion for cars. Every day after school I would rush home to watch the Heathcliff cartoon and practice drawing the classic car driven by Iggy’s grandpa.
Day after day, I penciled the boxy cabin, the wheels and the squared off vented hood. I did my best to capture the Model A styled grill and radiator cap. It was tricky perfecting the shape of the headlamps, taillights and the oval side window. My paper would be covered with eraser and pencil marks from the numerous attempts. Next, were Model A’s and 32 Roadsters and from there I graduated to sketching modified versions of my ’94 Honda Civic and ’91 Miata. Admittedly, I was not the best artist and after all these years I’m sad to report there has been no improvement…not even a little bit. But had I known that there were schools that could’ve helped me marry my sketches with my automotive passion, I would have filled up every sketch pad I could find and attended a design school.
This is exactly what Sasha Selipanov did. Combining his passion, raw talent and desire to be in the automotive industry, he journeyed to America to pursue an education from one of the premiere design schools in Southern California – The Art Center College of Design. With names like Shiro Nakamura, Henrik Fisker and Peter Brock, the Art Center College of Design has graduated some of the best in the industry. Following graduation, Sasha blazed a trail of designs that have made him one of the most coveted designers in the industry today.
When Hyundai decided to establish their luxury brand Genesis, they knew they needed people in place that would think outside of the box and help them create vehicles that would put them on the map as a contender. They sought designers that were cutting-edge and capable of bringing forth designs that would validate them as a company deserving of a share of the playground amidst the big boys. Vehicles that showcased high-end luxury, styling, and refinement yet at a price point that is more favorable for that middle-tier Executive climbing the ladder of success. With that, Genesis needed the right person at the helm for their European division and in 2016 Sasha was hand-picked for the role of Chief Designer.
Sasha’s reputation precedes him as he has put pen to paper creating phenomenal eye-catching designs for the VW Group. His talents have earned him design credits for cars that went on to become concept and production cars – the Bugatti Vision Gran Turismo Concept, Lamborghini Huracan and the Bugatti Chiron. All of which make him a superhero of automotive design. His talents and practical knowledge of physics have served the VW brand well and Genesis looks to utilize that experience to help with their mission to create stunning show-stopping vehicles. Sasha and his team have recently created a concept car that is getting as much buzz as the exclusive Bugatti Chiron…the Genesis Essentia. A beautiful luxury coupe (concept) boasting a futuristic, yet modern take on style and elegance.
I was able to catch up with the very busy Sasha at the Car Classic 2018 being held at his alma mater – the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. This is one of the many worldwide stops for the Genesis Essentia and Sasha. Not only was he there to on behalf of Genesis, but also as a judge for one of the design categories. I have heard a lot about Sasha and have also done my research in preparation for meeting with him and I must say that what I heard and learned about this man was spot on. From his signature Sumac t-shirt and beard, he may appear intimidating at first glance, but upon meeting him he is social, approachable, and very generous with his time.
With 15 years in the industry he remains very humble in his demeanor. Talking with him was very easy and he represents himself and the Genesis brand with great professionalism. The man has a welcoming smile and energy that makes you want to immediately add him to your friends list. His love for cars struck a chord with me being that I’m a fellow automotive enthusiast, but I wanted to find out more about the man behind the designs. I arranged to meet with Sasha at the event and was lucky enough to snag him for a few questions before he was pulled in too many directions.
Perks Garage is happy to present to you:
“15 Questions with an Automotive Designer”
1. As a kid did you have any ambition to be an automotive designer?
SS: No, but I always drew cars and knew that I wanted to be in the automotive industry in some form. I think most of the designers in the industry come from 2 major directions. Either they are designers at heart and have a passion for cars or they are car guys at heart and want to be part of this car world. That is probably where I come from more. I always drew and doodled as a kid, but don’t think I had any meaningful interest or talent.
1b) When did you develop that interest and talent for drawing cars?
SS: It was just my passion for cars, I get them. Their like living creatures for me. There is a connection I have with them that I don’t necessarily have with another object like a toaster for example. The real heartfelt stuff only happens with cars.
2. Do you recall what your first design was as a kid?
SS: I kept drawing Ferraris as a kid…Formula 1 cars, mid 80’s forms. In a German automotive sport magazine in my grandfather’s old pile had I saw these 2 Ferraris on the bottom of the last page…revelation.
3. Out of your designs which is your favorite?
SS: As someone famous before me said, their favorite is always the one that comes next. I like how that sounds. Whatever is done, is done and look forward to the next big thing and wonder how I am going to get this to look even better than what I am currently working on. I am proud and fortunate to have worked on the cars that I contributed to, but I always look forward to what comes next.
4. Is car design your only hobby and passion?
SS: By a large margin, yes. I am a big fan of metal music and science, reading books on physics. Car design, car racing as well.
4b) Do you race?
SS: I don’t personally race but have done a few track days and want to build up my skills. I bought a quick car and have all the ingredients. I am not terribly bad but wouldn’t call myself an expert.
5. What car do you currently own?
SS: Nissan GTR, it’s a big-time dream come true. I have always wanted one and have a Tamiya 1:10 scale replica and 1/8th scale diecast.
5b) Where does the GTR rank for you as a sportscars? Top 3?
SS: Pretty close to #1 for me. There are cars that are unobtainable and amazing, but then they are unobtainable. But the GTR is a sportscar that you can aspire to and one day own. You don’t have to be an elitist to own. A car that enthusiast can dream of having without winning the lottery or be a Silicon Valley success story. Just having a great salary and be still being able to afford a sportscar (GTR).
6. Are sports cars the only cars that you have designed of have you ever dabbled in sedans or economy level cars?
SS: Throughout my 15-year career, I have had to touch on a bit of other cars as well. There have been sedans for VW and Audi, SUVs and Rolls Royce size competitor cars. So, I’ve done it all, but my true passion is with sports cars. I have been very fortunate that through all my cars it’s the sportscars (Huracan, Chiron, Essentia) that have made it through to production or show standards. But the next car may not be a sports car, it may be something else.
7. As far as design what is your role?
SS: Head of design of the European studio for Genesis. Along with a few designers I have helped bring onboard, we work together as a team. I’m very hands on so there is still a lot of designing that I do. I think a lot of other Design Directors for the company are probably not as hands on. Probably in part due to my age as I am still a little bit younger than your average Design Chief. But also, the fact that the thing I enjoy most about the job is designing things.
8. With design being a collaborative effort, how much of a design is you versus the entire team?
SS: There is a certain moment in which everyone becomes a designer. Hierarchy doesn’t play a role when we are producing design work. Everyone puts up design work and everyone is judging it for what it is without thinking, “well our boss did this sketch, so it must be great.” I really enjoy this process. I like the fact that when I give critique to my team, they are more than welcome to return with critique of my work. Only when it comes to the decision-making process does hierarchy play a role. I do get to decide certain things, yet I have a boss that ultimately call the shots. But before the decision making comes into play, the creative process is very democratic.
9. Is there a signature design element that you put into every design?
SS: No, I hope that purity, simplicity and beauty and these types of overriding qualities show. What I like are things that sit well on the wheels, that are muscular, have a sense of direction and purpose but also have simplicity and clarity. All of which are very conceptual.
10. Are you inspired by anything when you look at a blank sheet of paper?
SS: Usually music plays a big role. I try to get a sense of tension and rhythm and purpose from what I’m listening to at that point. It’s very linear the transition from what I’m listening to and what I draw.
10b) What music are you listening to these days?
SS: A lot of underground heavy metal
11. How do juggle your career and family living in Germany and being employed in Korea?
SS: Its very tricky, we travel a lot to Korea. I think about 2-3 times in the last month. It’s pretty taxing on the family. But on the other hand, the projects are very exciting and there is so much life in the company right now so it’s a sacrifice we make. My wife understands that when I am home, I try to do as much with the family as possible. Don’t do late hours, get out of the office by 5-5:30. Spend as much time with the kids. It’s a balancing act.
12. What drew you to Genesis?
SS: The opportunity of a clean sheet of paper. With the other brands that I’ve worked with – Bugatti, Lamborghini and VW group as a whole, they are made from these historic gems. You have as much responsibility to push them forward as to protect what is already there. So, in a way you are like an art custodian. You are not going to come in one day and decide the Mona Lisa is not the right thing and enjoy your own doodle area. With Genesis, it’s a chance to create something from scratch without the wealth and history that the other brands come with.
12b) So basically you can’t go wrong? you can push the envelope yourself?
SS: You very much can go wrong but it’s in you, you team and you boss’s hands to set the direction. It a really good feeling. we are getting things going in a new path instead of carrying on what was already been done before we arrived.
13. What is your favorite component of the Genesis Essentia?
SS: The sculpture of the body side. I like how it moves the light toward the rear. I love how it accentuates the muscles of the rear. Outside of the styling looking at it from a whole, something must be said about Genesis. It’s a brand that’s not scared of making dream cars. The Essentia is by all definitions a dream car. There is also the possibility to dream and have your dreams realized.
14. I hear that based on the design you and your team came up with, the Essentia Concept car is a car that might possibly go into production?
SS: There is no official discussion or communication about it, so let’s put a rain-check on that.
15. So, what’s next for Sasha?
SS: New projects. New opportunities. New post-production and show car ideas are floating around. I hope that something new for everyone to see with be there soon.
After the interview, I walked away thinking to myself:
• What if I had stuck with my doodles and sketches?
• What if I followed my passion in the same way that he did?
But I definitely have no regrets. I get to meet and write about people that share my same passion and enthusiasm for the automotive world. And on this day our paths crossed and I had the pleasure to meet and interview Sasha Selipanov – designer of the Huracan, Chiron and now the Genesis Essentia.
Perks Garage would like to thank Sasha for his time. He is true an inspiration!
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