1956 Cadillac Cyclone, 2014 Corvette Stingray, 2013 Buick Encore at NAIAS. Click image to enlarge
Interview by Jonathan Yarkony, photos courtesy GM
Jonathan Yarkony: Can you give us a few snapshots of your career highlights, notable moments in your career?
Ed Welburn: Okay, actually I’ll go back before I even started working at GM. You know, I’ve been crazy about cars all my life, went to the Philadelphia Auto Show, my parents took me at age 8, walked in the show, saw this incredible concept vehicle and I told my parents that when I grow up I want to design cars for that company. It was the Cadillac Cyclone. I was 8 years old. And by age 11 I figured out where it had been designed, and I wrote GM and I told them I want to be a designer when I grow up for GM, so what courses should I take. They sent me great information and I followed their lead.
JY: Interesting, I believe Ralph Gilles has a similar origin story where he wrote Chrysler requesting how to get started.
Ed: Yeah, it isn’t that unusual. I mean, car designers have wanted to design cars since they were kids. You know, I’ve had the good fortune to have worked for some of the real legends in design. Bill Mitchell, I used to design and work for him, Chuck Jordan and Wayne Cherry. I had the opportunity to work for virtually every brand of GM along the way.
There was one car, it was kind of big transition for me; it was a high-speed research car, Aerotech for that design. And generally, I don’t use the term I design this, I design that because it’s such a team sport, but in the case of Aerotech, I got this assignment.
They said, “We’re developing this high speed research car that has 1000 horsepower, the chassis is from an Indianapolis race car, AJ Foyt will be the driver, would you like to design the body of this car?”
So, the very first sketch I did, they used.
“Well, I’ve got other ideas,” and they said “No. This is it.”
And that project was a transition for me from being a designer on the board, sketching, to one that not only was still sketching but I was managing a project, working with the aerodynamicists and the engineers and, to some degree, really first time that I was supervising at all, so it stands out as a very significant project for me, one of the most significant. But they’ve all been fun, they’ve all been exciting. Whether it’s bringing Camaro back, or a small van that’s sold in India, or something for the emerging markets out of Brazil. For me I think the biggest moment was developing the global design organization.
In the history of GM we did not have an organized global organization. We had design centres around the world but they did not report to one person, they reported to regional leaders. So I’m the first in GM to do that and to organize that and get them operate as one machine is, I believe, the most significant contribution I’ve made to the company.
JY: When did that take place and how long did that take?
Ed: It was 2005 when that decision was made, I was already VP of Design but really only for North America. I had established kind of a club for GM designers around the world but it was 2005 when it was made official that I was leading all of Design and it didn’t take long for it to become a unified organization. It has evolved since then but the team runs really kind of like a machine. A powerful machine.