Take a spin with Ed Welburn in this recent five-question interview with the Associated Press.
On June 30, Welburn will end a very successful and lengthy career with General Motors, including a current stint as the sixth design chief in the company’s 108-year history.
Welburn knew he wanted to become a designer for GM at the age of 9 when he became mesmerized by the 1959 Cadillac Cyclone during a visit to the Philadelphia Auto Show.
Lucky for GM’s customers the young Welburn was so taken by the big fins and rocket-like front cones of that Cadillac as he has ultimately led the company through some pretty impressive designs, including the current Corvette and Camaro.
In fact, Welburn plans to tour Europe for two weeks in his new Corvette after he ends a career with GM that started way back in 1972.
“It didn’t take me long to understand the first week that I was here, there was a responsibility I had,” Welburn said, reflecting on a question about his appointment as the first African-American chief designer for a major automaker. “I was representing more than myself, right or wrong. There’s a certain amount of pressure that goes with that.”
So, with that said, what does Welburn feel his legacy at GM will be?
“I believe that we have created a culture in which design and engineering really work together,” he responds. “I think a huge part of (my legacy) is the collaboration between design and its partners, as well as establishing this very powerful global design organization.”
Answering a third question about his ability to attract design talent to Detroit, Welburn admits that attracting digital sculptors away from Silicon Valley and the film industry has been a big challenge.
“Years ago, it was very difficult to get anyone from California to come here,” he said. “You create the right environment and they see what we’re doing. It’s not easy, but it’s a whole lot easier than it was 10 years ago.”
The fourth question asked him to name his favorite car he’s designed or been in charge of. While he loves many projects for different reasons, apparently the C7 Corvette is closest to his heart because the goal was to make “a course correction” and get the car’s average age of ownership to come down while increasing declining sales.
“I decided since we had designers in studios around the world, to offer up to every designer to submit their idea,” Welburn said of the current Corvette. “Ultimately the design came from the Corvette team, but it was fascinating to see how each of those studios interpreted it differently.”
And lastly, the times are a-changin’ in the automotive world, so how does Welburn think the designs will be affected by new ways of powering vehicles in the future?
He says it will depend on the propulsion system, with electric and autonomous vehicles offering more flexibility in the design and the ability to focus more on the interior space and comfort.
“At the end of the day,” he says, “a beautiful vehicle, no matter how it’s propelled, will win.”