GM’s head of design, Ed Welburn, is retiring in June. What is his legacy?
This was reported here. It seems like only yesterday that he was appointed: 2003. He replaced Wayne Cherry. One of his goals was to unify the design studios of GM, much in the way that the engineering and production has been streamlined (for good and for ill).
Autoblog says rather little about Wellburn’s time as GM’s design chief. Jalopnik feels that Welburn led the rebirth of GM design with the restyled Camaro and oversaw the approval of the Cadillac CTS. At DTW we might be interested to note he was responsible for the aero Olds such as the Cutlass Supreme I keep bringing up. The Verge doesn’t say much about his career either, in terms of his concrete achievements. Bloomberg reckons Welburn oversaw a styling renaissance and also cite the new Camaro and Cadillac CTS. Car Design News adds some data: Welburn was chief designer at Saturn in the 1990s. That must have been a frustrating gig as it involved restyling Opels for the most part and ended in the brand being shuttered. Formtrends says he reinvigorated GM design, “prompting Cadillac’s Art and Science theme” (that was invented by someone else) and “furthering Buick’s organic design philosophy.” Road & Track says this: “Ed Welburn is
easily one of the most important car designers of the modern era … Welburn’s departure is a significant one because he was responsible for many of GM’s 21st century design success, including the fifth-generation Camaro, the C7 Corvette, the Buick Avista, the Cadillac Ciel, and many others. He also designed the wild streamlined 1987 Oldsmobile Aerotech concept that A.J. Foyt took up to 290 mph, a car he considers his most important, according to a recent Automotive News profile.” I can’t visualise most of those, however.
All of this has got me thinking that Ed Welburn was undoubtedly a good administrator and held this last position during a very difficult time for GM. It is also a job where one has to oversee a huge corporation’s design so his influence was going to be less evident at the
level of particular cars. With all that in mind, I do wonder quite what GM has achieved in the last 13 years. I really like what Opel is doing at the moment and, visually, Buick shows some promise but where are the designs that are inspiring people? J. Mays had some hits and his misses. Whilst Welburn has avoided any obvious turkeys like the Aztek he has also not left a vehicle which, without doing any research, stands out as a signature car.
[This article appeared for a short time attached to today’s item on the AR Stelvio. I was going to assemble a news-dump article and only managed two sections. On reflection I decided my critique of Welburn was of significant profundity to merit its own article.
[You can find the word “architected” used in this article which discusses the evolution of Cadillac’s present design themes]