DETROIT – Ed Welburn will retire as General Motors vice president for global design June 1, after 13 years as the automaker’s sixth design chief. His replacement is Michael Simcoe, GM International Design vice president since March 2014, and its executive director from 2011 to ’14, who starts his new post May 1, for a one-month overlap with Welburn.
GM does not have a mandatory retirement age, a spokesman says, though Welburn has chosen to step down at age 65. Welburn will work as a consultant with GM’s architect on a new Design building at the GM Tech Center in Warren, Michigan.
A native of Philadelphia, Welburn credits the Cadillac Cyclone Motorama concept with sparking his interest in automotive design. He saw the car in the early 1960s while visiting an auto show as an adolescent with his father, and wrote a letter to GM asking about design careers. He had a sculpting internship at GM Design in 1971, and earned a BFA from Howard University’s College of Fine Arts the following year.
Welburn joined Buick’s design studio in 1973, where he worked on the Riviera and Park Avenue. He is credited with design of the Oldsmobile Aerotech, which achieved a land speed record in 1987, and also worked on the Cutlass Supreme and Cutlass Ciera while at Olds, where he became chief designer in 1989. Welburn was named chief designer of Saturn in 1996.
Welburn was named vice president of GM Design North America in November 2003, and then vice president of global design, a new position, in 2005. He’s the third-longest serving GM design chief, after Harley Earl and Bill Mitchell. Under Welburn’s tutelage, GM Design gave us the 2010 and ’16 Chevrolet Camaros, Mark II and Mark III Cadillac CTS, the Cadillac CTS Coupe, C7 Chevrolet Corvette, Pontiac Solstice/Saturn Sky, Buick Enclave, Chevy Volt, Bolt, Sonic and recent Malibus, and such concept cars as the Cadillac El Miraj and Ciel, Buick Avenir and Avista, and Opel Monza and GT.
His successor joined GM Holden in Australia as a designer in 1983. Simcoe, 58, was named Design director for GM Asia Pacific in 1995, responsible for collaborations with Daewoo, Suzuki, Subaru and Isuzu. He became GM Holden’s design director in 2001, director of Asia Pacific Design in 2003 and executive director of North American Exterior Design in 2004, adding the title of brand champion for Chevrolet in 2009. Design development credits include the GMC Terrain, Buick LaCrosse, Chevy Camaro and Equinox, and Cadillac CTS sedan, wagon and coupe.