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Ed Welburn, GM’s legendary design chief, to retire this summer

General Motors Global Vice President Design Ed Welburn with the 2014 Corvette Stingray at the 2013 Amelia Island Concours Friday, March 8, 2013 on Amelia Island, Florida. (Photo by Paul Figura for Chevrolet)

General Motors Global Vice President Design Ed Welburn with the 2014 Corvette Stingray at the 2013 Amelia Island Concours Friday, March 8, 2013 on Amelia Island, Florida. (Photo by Paul Figura for Chevrolet)

Ed Welburn, vice president of General Motors Global Design, told employees today he will retire effective July 1, following a 44-year career with the company.

Welburn, 65, has been celebrated inside and outside the industry for his extraordinary achievements. He has led GM Design since 2003, and globally since 2005, the first African American from any automaker to do so.

Under Welburn’s leadership, GM built a network of 10 GM design centers in seven countries. His team of more than 2,500 creative men and women – based in the U.S., Germany, South Korea, China, Australia, Brazil and India – collaborate on the design development of every GM concept and production car, truck and crossover globally.

He was named vice president of GM Design North America on Oct. 1, 2003, becoming just the sixth Design leader in GM history. On March 1, 2005, Welburn was named to the newly created position of Vice President, GM Global Design, and the first to lead all of the company’s Global Design Centers. Welburn also serves on the company’s Executive Leadership Team. As Vice President of Global Design, Welburn has created a network of ten Design Centers in seven countries around the world. He and his team of over 2,500 men and women are responsible for the design development of every GM concept and production car and truck globally. The Design Centers are located in the United States, Germany, Korea, China, Australia, Brazil and India.

Under Welburn’s leadership, GM Design introduced critically acclaimed new concept vehicles, such as the Buick Avista concept revealed at the recent 2016 North American International Auto Show. The Buick Avista went on to capture the EyesOn Design Award for “Best Concept Vehicle” and the Detroit News Readers’ Choice Award.

Welburn was an intern at GM Design in 1971. He began his General Motors career in 1972 as an associate designer assigned to the Advanced Design Studios. In 1973, Welburn joined the Buick Exterior Studio where he worked on the Buick Riviera and Park Avenue. In 1975, he was assigned to the Oldsmobile Exterior Studio. There he led the development of a number of successful production vehicles and designed the Oldsmobile Aerotech speed-record vehicle, which set two world’s records of more than 257 miles per hour in 1987.

He was named chief designer of the Oldsmobile Studio in 1989. Projects there included the Oldsmobile Antares concept car and the 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.

Welburn was born on Dec. 14, 1950. His 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, D.C., where he studied sculpture and product design.

Welburn is currently General Motors key executive to Howard University, and was named 2004 Howard University Alumni of the Year. In 1978, the GM Foundation, of which Welburn is a board member, established a yearly grant award to Howard. Since then, the total estimated GM Foundation Grant Fund to Howard is now well over $1.1 million.

Welburn currently serves on the on the board of trustees at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, Michigan. He is the first African American to lead a global automotive design organization, and was GM’s first African American designer when he joined the company in 1972. In February of 2015, Welburn made history when he was named Black Engineer of the Year at the 29th annual “Becoming Everything You Are” (BEYA) STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) conference in Washington DC. This was the first time a GM employee took home the top honor, which is one of the nation’s most prestigious diversity awards.

Welburn has received honors and special recognition from Rainbow PUSH and African Americans on Wheels Magazine. In May 2008, he received the Man of Excellence Award from the Michigan Chronicle and made the list of The Ebony Power 150: The Most Influential Blacks in America as recognized by Ebony magazine. In 2009 and 2012, Black Enterprise Magazine named Welburn as one of the 100 Most Powerful Executives in Corporate America. On January 25, 2009, Welburn received the Distinguished Service Citation from the Automotive Hall of Fame, which recognizes an individual’s significant contribution to the auto industry.

In June of 2012, Welburn received the inaugural “Nicola Bulgari Award” for outstanding contributions to preserving America’s automotive heritage through education, restoration or collecting classic cars in conjunction with the grand opening of LeMay – America’s Car Museum in Tacoma, Washington. Welburn was recognized in July of 2012 by the Detroit Historical Society’s Black Historic Sites Commission for being the first African American to lead a global automotive Design organization. In addition, he was honored at the Trumpet Awards (‘Corporate Award’) in January 2013, received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the annual Multicultural Media Awards luncheon at the North American International Auto Show in January 2014, and was the first-ever recipient of the Detroit Free Press Automotive Difference Makers Lifetime Achievement Award in March 2016. The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opens later in 2016, will be the primary repository for the Edward T. Welburn Collection, consisting of original drawings, photographs, ephemera and artifacts documenting his GM career and his contributions to the African American community.

As the VP of Global Design for GM, Welburn has also appeared on Jay’s (Leno) Garage, CNBC, Velocity TV’s AmeriCarna television series and truTV’s Motor City Masters reality competition. In June of 2014, Welburn made his motion picture film debut with a cameo-speaking role in the Michael Bay-directed “Transformers 4: Age of Extinction.” Portions of the movie were filmed at the GM Design Center in Warren, Michigan, including Welburn’s office and the iconic GM Design Dome.

Michael Simcoe, a 33-year veteran of GM Design and vice president of GM International Design, based in Australia and Korea, has been selected to succeed Welburn. He will be the company’s seventh design leader and begins transitioning into his new role on May 1.