By on April 7, 2016

Ed Welburn with Buick Avista concept (Photo: Steve Fecht for Buick)

After realizing the American Dream as head of General Motors’ design division, Ed Welburn announced today that he’ll retire on July 1 after being with the automaker for 44 years.

Welburn, 65, headed GM Design since 2003 and Global Design since 2004, leading the teams who crafted the models that led the automaker out of bankruptcy — among them, the Buick LaCrosse and Enclave, Chevrolet Camaro and Equinox, and Cadillac CTS.

He’ll be replaced by Michael Simcoe, a 33-year veteran of GM Design and vice president of GM International Design.

As a child, Welburn was bit by the design bug after seeing the Cadillac Cyclone concept car at the 1958 Philadelphia Auto Show. After an education and apprenticeship, he started in GM’s Buick Exterior Studio in 1973.

During his stint as design head, Welburn oversaw the creation of 10 worldwide GM design centers, employing a total of 2,500 designers.

Buick Avenir Concept 03

As the first African-American to hold the post (for any automaker), he involved himself in community outreach, launching the “You Make a Difference” design mentoring program in Detroit’s public schools, and a number of GM Foundation educational grants.

GM CEO Mary Barra credited Welburn for instilling a “creative, inclusive and customer-focused culture among our designers,” while Mark Reuss, executive vice president of global project development, credited his “ability to take diverse ideas and mold them into great products that surprise and delight our customers.”

The design concepts rolled out under his guidance were numerous, but the last one he oversaw might be the most significant. The Buick Avenir concept vehicle of 2015 didn’t make it to production (few concepts do), but the design language was adopted by the Buick brand, as well as its signature grille.

If you started your career by molding clay for future Buicks, it must feel good to end it on a high note with the same brand.

[Image: Ed Welburn, Steve Fecht/Buick]

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38 Comments on “Ed Welburn To Retire as GM Design Head, Michael Simcoe Tapped to Replace Him...”

  • avatar

    Not that I’d ever buy a GM product, the picture above with it’s hints of Jaguar and BM ( in my opinion) is quite a handsome looking car. Of course, GM won’t bring this car to market.

  • avatar

    Interesting that Australian Michael Simcoe is going to be head of design

  • avatar

    Glad to see the clown leave.

    It doesn’t matter how many show cars you create if your product portfolio is average at best. There have been no great products designed under his charge that have made it into production.

    The new Shamvette is a chinese attempt to steal other automakers’ ideas and it was poorly executed and is a very amateur attempt; it is very awkward to look at from most angles. This had to be great; it was not. It wasn’t even good.

    The new Shamaro has all the awful issues of the prior generation – it is more cramped and has the same horrific interior qualities of the past model. It is dull and looks like a very childish attempt.

    All Cadihacks are moribund. There is no hint of styling in any of the products. Adding 1980’s movie theatre aisle lighting to the front of your cars is proof you have no idea what you are doing.

    The rest of the Total Recall Motors lineup is even worse than the above attempts. The new Malibu looks like a cockroach – it is a blob with no style – just arbitrary lines. The new Snuze is a cramped product that takes the best of the old model and ruins it.

    The truck lineup is a joke – full-sized is 1999 with a few new dents and a new interior. The fake mid-sized truck is a disaster – you can spin its sales, but those are purely average in a segment with virtually no competition.

    Buick is a morass of different daddies’ work.

    GMC is redundant and is a professional grade joke. It is made on the same line as Chevrolets. There is nothing professional grade about the same drunks building vehicles that command $10k more than Chevrolets and $20K more as Cadihacks.

  • avatar

    I think this man did a pretty good job of steering GM through a difficult period and brought some interesting hardware to GM showrooms. Kudos to him.

  • avatar

    can the next GM design chief fix the use of awful fonts all across GM’s line-up? (gauge cluster, interior, model nameplate, you name it. all awful.)

    A font suitable for a Cadillac is not going to be the same as one for the Silverado.

    Sincerely, a design nerd.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      That I agree with. Since GM goes through the trouble of reskinning a version of MyLink / IntelliLink for Cadillac, it might as well change the typeface, too. But that’s probably a UI / UX designer (which is what I do, but for websites). It’d be nice to think of these vehicle designs as cohesive efforts, but the truth is that a completely unrelated team chooses the skins and typography for GM’s interfaces. Unfortunately, that seems to be done at a corporate level, so some things are the same across all the brands. However, for the first time, like I said, the skins are at least different. There is a version of MyLink / IntelliLink that is used across all four brands, and the Buick and Cadillac versions, at least, are unique in theme.

      Moreover, the exterior typeface actually is different between GM brands.

      Interestingly, Hyundai/Kia, from about 2010-2013, shared a Century Gothic type font that was used on all interior interfaces and switchgear. In 2014, Kia abruptly started using a blockier typeface. Hyundai phased out the Century Gothic style and its newer vehicles have a different typeface, which is also different from the Kia one. The brands also stopped sharing key fob deigns at that time.

  • avatar

    Let me take the uncool view here.

    I think Welburn did a good job in a difficult era. You cannot compare him to Bill Mitchell or Harley Earl. Neither had the regulations forced upon them that current designers have.

    A lot of hits and few misses, among them the current Silverado/Sierra. Adding lightness while making platforms stronger is also to be commended.

  • avatar

    Ed is a class act and a stand-up guy all the way.

    Especially considering the turmoil and tearup in the Corp over the past 10 years.

    Guys like this aren’t easy to replace.

  • avatar

    If everything after 2003 was on his watch, I think it’s pretty clear he’s the reason for the poor designs that have become the norm at GM.
    Good riddance.

    Bring back his predecessor.

    • 0 avatar

      Ya! Bring back Pontiacs swaddled in cladding, pure badge engineered vehicles to the truest sense of the definition, the Aztek, the SSR, and Chevy Avalanche cladding. Please!!!

      • 0 avatar

        I’d rather have someone that thinks outside the box and doesn’t quite get it right at first, than someone that repeatedly creates boring designs.

    • 0 avatar

      GM has, and always will be, a great powertrain manufacturer that also kind of builds OK cars every once in a while.

      The reason why the Bolt will fail is because it is ugly. Bleeding edge engineering applications shrouded in hideousness.

  • avatar

    The Hyundai Genesis in blue at NYIAS looked like an Aston Martin.

    That Buick would be released with a STUPID 400HP twin turbo 6.


  • avatar

    Welburn is a great and classy guy, I wish him well in his retirement and will say nothing ill of him.

  • avatar

    I never heard of Ed Welburn until now, but he’s the guy who’s been doing great things lately.

    Time to sell my GM stock?

  • avatar

    Mike Simcoe’s brother Anthony did great work as Ka D’argo on Farscape.

  • avatar

    So does this mean bigger windows, or smaller ones?

  • avatar

    Perhaps this might mean an American car with styling that may appeal to other markets, or a move to a less radical/polarizing styling apart from Cadillac, which should always be avant-garde.
    You want an American version of a Rolls Royce, see Ford, you want a true AMERICAN luxury car, see Cadillac.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    GM should have built his 2 door concept and called it the Riviera. There is nothing wrong with Welburn’s designs. GM’s designs have gotten much better in the last few years. Mr.Welburn’s design influence will be missed. Lincoln could use these designs. The four door design in the second picture would make a great looking Continental.

  • avatar

    So this is the joker that gave us the pouting guppy look on Buick?

    No wonder he stole away in shame….

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