MotorCities National Heritage Area
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By: Robert Tate
Photos courtesy of the National Automotive History Collection
Posted: 02.15.2016

file 20160215164326 Ed Welburn

Ed Welburn, is General Motors current Vice President of Global Design. He holds the highest ranking position as the most creative African American within the automotive industry.

His journey as one of the best designers and creative leaders in the industry began at the young age of 2 when he started sketching automotive designs with his father. His father, who co-owned and operated his automotive business, was very much involved at the beginning of Ed’s life and his development of becoming a great automotive designer.

To start the story of this great man, I wanted to go to the beginning of Ed’s career. The year was 1961 when Ed wrote a letter to General Motors outlining his interest in automotive designs. At the age of 11, Ed began to have a creative vision and a dream that one day he would become an automotive designer.

As General Motors read the letter from this talented young man, who also had a special interest in cars, they replied back with an outline of what he had to do in order to become a great and successful automobile designer.

In the beginning, there was one particular vehicle that Ed was very fond of and that was the Cadillac Cyclone concept model he saw at the Philadelphia Auto Show when he was 8.

file 20160215164401 Ed Welburn

After high school, Ed had applied to Howard University in Washington D. C., where later, he had received his Bachelor’s Degree in product design and sculpturing. Before graduation, Ed had already received a great offer starting with an internship program while still in school from the General Motors Tech Center in Warren, Mich.

file 20160215164431 Ed WelburnAfter Ed had completed his studies and graduated from Howard University, he was immediately hired into GM in 1972 and was assigned to the Buick Design Studio. From these early days, Ed began to design many great sketches and accomplished many new design ideas for the General Motors design staff.

Welburn’s hiring at GM was much more than just a talented young man landing a new job – he was the first African American to be hired in as a designer for General Motors at the Tech Center.

“I quickly realized I was representing more people than just myself,” Welburn once said.

During his designing career at GM, Welburn had the great opportunity to meet the late Bill Mitchel, who was vice president of design; as well as the talented Mr. Charles Jordan. Both of these men were great designers for General Motors and had left quite a legacy upon their departure.

In 1975, Ed began to start working within the Oldsmobile Exterior Studio there he created many great GM designs. One example are the Cutlass Supreme models that became very popular among consumers. Another credit to Welburn is the 1987 Oldsmobile Aerotech Concept which today is considered a GM heritage icon.

file 20160215164541 Ed WelburnEd once said “Designing the car gave me a respect for aerodynamics.”

The Aerotech Concept was an experimental high speed vehicle that had set many speed and endurance records. The 1987 Aerotech Concept was built by a special team at General Motors and later the model was driven by racing legend A.J. Foyt, to set a new world’s land speed record.

After the Aerotech project was completed, Ed’s career would continue with the GM’s Saturn creative design team as well as Opel design team in Rüsselsheim am Main, Germany. Later he would become involved with many other great GM products such as several truck designs that became very popular for the consumer market such as the Cadillac Escalade, Hummer H2, SSR and the very popular Chevrolet Avalanche.

file 20160215164620 Ed WelburnEd was also the Brand Character Center director and later he became GM executive director of body-on-frame architecture 2002-03. In 2003 he became chief designer.

Ed throughout his career had developed a great eye for consumers’ interests in knowing what a great design should be and knowing what people wanted. The Oldsmobile Intrigue models along with many other GM products gave Ed the great reputation as being one of the best.

On Oct. 1, 2003 Ed Welburn made automotive history being named vice president of GM Design North America. And on March 1, 2005, Ed made history again by becoming GM's Vice President of Global Design. Over the years, Ed has established a great network of 10 design centers in seven countries around the world.

In conclusion, Ed Welburn is a professional, a perfectionist and considered one of the best designers in the world. He is a perfect gentlemen who not only cares just about the auto industry but offers a great respect for the individuals who work in the auto industry as well.

Ed is a milestone and he always gives back to the community a great deal of his time and effort for many educational projects. For future endeavors, from Corvettes to Camaro, his great automotive design legacy will always be remembered by many generations to come.

A special thanks to Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher, for contributing this story to the MotorCities Story of the Week Program. (Bibliography: Curry, E. George: “GM's top designer has always been Career Driven” Michigan Chronicle Business June 3, 2014; Dingle, T. Derek: “Auto Industry Tune Up” Black Enterprise magazine April/May 2013; Auto Week: “AutoWeek's Fast Five Ed Welburn” March 2004.)

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