Ed Welburn, the influential designer who shaped the look of a generation's worth of General Motors vehicles, announced today that he will retire on July 1, after a 44-year career with the company. Michael Simcoe, vice president of GM International Design, based in Australia and Korea, will succeed him.
Welburn, 65, led GM Design since 2003, and globally since 2005, the first African American from any automaker to do so.
“GM Design is among the most respected and sought-after organizations in the industry because of Ed’s leadership. He nurtured a creative, inclusive and customer-focused culture among our designers that has strengthened our global brands,” said Mary Barra, GM chairman and CEO, in a press release.
Under Welburn’s leadership, GM built a network of 10 design centers in seven countries. His team recently designed the Buick Avista concept car, which received the EyesOn Design Award for Best Concept Vehicle at the Detroit Auto Show this year.
An Early Start
Welburn’s passion for car design began at an early age in his hometown of Philadelphia, and was influenced by such vehicles as the Cadillac Cyclone concept and the Chevrolet Corvettes of the late 1950s. At the age of eleven, he wrote a letter to GM Design saying he wanted to be a car designer. The company wrote back, and recommended the steps he needed to take to achieve his dream.
He received a bachelor's degree in 1972 from the College of Fine Arts at Howard University in Washington, where he studied sculpture and product design.
Welburn started out as an intern at GM Design in 1971, then in 1972 became an associate designer assigned to the Advanced Design Studios. In 1973, he joined the Buick Exterior Studio where he worked on the Buick Riviera and Park Avenue. Two years later, he was assigned to the Oldsmobile Exterior Studio, where he designed the Oldsmobile Aerotech speed-record vehicles--which set two world's records of more than 257 miles per hour in 1987.
In 1989, Welburn was named chief designer of the Oldsmobile Studio. Projects there included the Oldsmobile Antares concept car and Oldsmobile Intrigue, both of which received AutoWeek magazine awards at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
In 1996, Welburn began a two-year assignment at Saturn, which led to an overseas assignment in Germany where he worked on future global design programs.
Welburn was named director of GM's Advanced Design in Warren, Michigan, in 1998. His team was responsible for the development of new and innovative vehicles for all GM brands. Welburn's team also led the development of all GM concept vehicles, including a new generation of hydrogen fuel cell concepts.
Welburn was appointed executive director of design, body-on-frame architectures, in January of 2002. In this position, he was responsible for the three truck studios at the GM Design Center in Warren. Projects included the HUMMER H3, Cadillac Escalade and the latest generation of full-size trucks that reached the market in 2006.