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Car and Driver: General Motors Design Chief Ed Welburn Retiring After 44 Years

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Ed Welburn

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Ed Welburn, the man who brought beauty back to General Motors, is retiring after 11 years as the company’s chief global designer.

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Welburn, 65, will step down as vice president of GM global design on July 1. He will be replaced by Michael Simcoe, 58, vice president of GM international design in Australia.

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Looking back at 2005, when Welburn was promoted from his two-year stint as North American design chief, Cadillac was teething with its “Art & Science” language, Buick was utterly lost, the quirky SSR was the only bright spot among a sea of bland also-rans at Chevy, like Malibu Maxx and Venture minivans. GM was bloated in other brands it cared very little to manage, let alone design. Today, re-badging is easily discerned only at GMC, and the Malibu’s body can actually be described as stunning. GM now has 10 design centers in seven countries (Germany, South Korea, China, India, Australia, Brazil, and the U.S.) that collaborate on every concept and production car the company sells. Certainly, it’s been a team effort—and no doubt enthusiast champions like former product development vice chairman Bob Lutz and current executive vice president Mark Reuss played a huge part—but exterior and interior design are the industry’s lasting (and damning) first impressions.

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1-2016-Buick-Avista-concept

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Recently, we’ve seen Welburn standing in front of gorgeous concept cars that may never see the light of day. But so much of GM’s product renaissance, if not its bankruptcy that turned the company inside out, can be seen from Welburn’s eye. The Buick Avista concept, the downright sumptuous interiors inside the Impala and LaCrosse, the clean-sheet look of the Colorado—we could go on for 1000 more words. It’s not all a masterpiece, but Welburn’s vision has helped bring GM into a modern design leadership role not seen since its Motorama days.

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GM hired Welburn, a Philadelphia native, in 1972 as an associate designer. He was the company’s first African-American designer, although color wasn’t on his mind back when he joined exterior teams at Buick in 1973 (his first assignments were the Riviera and Park Avenue) or Oldsmobile in 1975. He stayed put at Oldsmobile in various roles, where he designed the 257-mph Aerotech concept in 1987. He was chief Oldsmobile designer from 1989 until a move to Saturn in 1996.

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1-Oldsmobile-Aerotech-concept

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In 1998, Welburn was appointed to executive director of GM’s Advanced Design Center. By 2002, he became executive director for GM’s body-on-frame trucks and SUVs and in 2003, finally reached the helm as chief designer in the North American region. His final 2005 promotion to chief global designer was an all-new company role, a vast expansion of the responsibilities held by GM’s five previous design vice presidents. Bill Mitchell, second to hold the title, was still in charge when Welburn began his career, and he worked under successors Irv Rybicki, Chuck Jordan and Wayne Cherry. Welburn is an expert on the heritage of GM Design dating back to its origins under the famed Harley Earl. To celebrate Welburn’s 44-year career at GM, the newly-opened Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., will feature a collection of his original sketches.

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We wish Welburn well, and can only hope GM retains his good taste in the decades ahead.

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i see a Buick Genesis Coupe?

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9 hours ago, Ghost said:

i see a Buick Genesis Coupe?

:slap: don't even compare the two

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please tell me you see it.

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