GM Design Chief Ed Welburn Retires After Bringing Style Rebirth

  • Promoted under Bob Lutz, he brought back Chevy's Camaro
  • Mike Simcoe from Asia-Pacific region will be his replacement

General Motors Co. design chief Ed Welburn will retire July 1, ending an 11-year run that saw a styling renaissance with cars like the Chevrolet Camaro and the Cadillac CTS, which helped bring the luxury name back to respectability.

When Welburn took the job as GM’s chief global styling in 2005, the company had been trying to find its way after decades when engineering took precedence over design. He was the the industry’s first black design chief. Mike Simcoe, who heads design for GM’s Asia-Pacific region, will replace Welburn, the company said Thursday.

Welburn, 65, was promoted under now-retired GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz, who gave designers a bigger voice in the development of new models. That gave Welburn and the company’s designers a chance to overhaul brands like Cadillac and Buick and bring back sporty cars like the Camaro.

“Ed has managed to re-establish what made GM great in the ’60s: cars and trucks that just look right, inside and out,” Lutz said in an e-mail. “Ed’s reign will be remembered as marking the end of the dark era and the rebirth of GM as a design leader.”

Before he took the top job, Welburn oversaw successful cars like the CTS and Camaro. The CTS started to bring Cadillac back from an era of making huge sedans and gave the brand credibility. The Camaro had been killed off in 2002 and when it came back as a 2010 model, it quickly overtook Ford Motor Co.’s Mustang in sales.

On Welburn’s watch GM redesigned the Chevrolet Malibu for the 2008 model year, giving the company a competitive family sedan for the first time in decades. Before the redesign of the Malibu, GM sold fewer than 130,000 of the car in the U.S. Sales of the revamped Malibu grew to almost 212,000 in 2012.

Simcoe has worked on some of the same models. He started in GM’s Australian Holden unit and has worked on the CTS, Camaro and, more recently, the Buick Avenir sedan that won best concept car at the 2015 Detroit auto show.

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