In its 108-year history, General Motors has only had six heads of design. The current one, 65-year-old Ed Welburn, will retire July 1.
Welburn announced his retirement Thursday, marking the end of a 44-year career at GM. He’ll be succeeded by Michael Simcoe, who is currently vice president of GM International Design, working in Australia and South Korea. He’ll be the company’s seventh design boss, and will begin transitioning to the role May 1.
When he was named vice president of GM North America Design in 2003, Welburn became the first African American to lead the design department of a carmaker. He followed in the footsteps of legends like Harley Earl, the father of GM design. Welburn was promoted in 2005 when GM created the position of global design vice president.
During his tenure, Welburn expanded GM’s design resources to include a network of 10 design centers in seven countries, including the U.S., Germany, South Korea, China, Australia, Brazil, and India. He currently oversees more than 2,500 people worldwide.
Welburn wanted to work at GM since at least age 11, when he wrote a letter to the company asking how he could become a car designer. He began his career there in 1972 working as an intern, and moved to the Buick design studio the next year. He worked on the Riviera and Park Avenue before moving to Oldsmobile in 1975. Welburn subsequently worked overseas, at GM’s advanced design center, and on the company’s popular big trucks and SUVs.
His replacement, Simcoe, has worked at GM for 33 years. He started in 1983 at GM’s Australian Holden division, and eventually became head of GM design for the Asia Pacific region. In 2004, Simcoe was named executive director of North American Exterior Design. Most recently, he led the team responsible for the Buick Avenir concept that debuted at the 2015 Detroit Auto Show.
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