Edward T. Welburn

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Edward T. Welburn
Born (1950-12-14) December 14, 1950 (age 69)
OccupationAutomotive designer and executive
Known forHead of design at General Motors
PredecessorWayne Cherry
SuccessorMichael Simcoe

Edward T. Welburn (born December 14, 1950) is an automobile designer and former General Motors' Vice President of Global Design, a role in which he served from 2003 to 2016 and the same position that Harley Earl and Bill Mitchell once held.

To date, Welburn still holds the distinction of having been the highest-ranking African-American in the global automotive industry.[1] He has overseen the development of recent GM products, such as the Chevrolet Corvette, Cadillac Escalade and Chevrolet Camaro.

Recent groundbreaking concepts overseen by Welburn include the Oldsmobile Aerotech, Cadillac Ciel, and Buick Avista.

Oldsmobile Aerotech

Welburn was also the lead GM designer on the Chaparral 2X Vision GT, a concept car designed for the videogame Gran Turismo 6.[2][3] The car features 4-wheel steer and active aerodynamics, claimed to be similar to a wingsuit, and was made available in December 2014.


Welburn studied design, sculpture, and painting at Howard University’s School of Fine Arts in Washington, D.C. He communicated with General Motors during his years at Howard, which led to an internship at GM Design after his junior year in 1971. He earned his bachelor's degree from Howard in 1972 [4] and was invited to return to his alma mater on May 7, 2016 to give a commencement speech to graduates of the College of Fine Arts.


Welburn's first peek behind the curtain of General Motors Design was during his college internship in 1971. One year later, he became the first African American hired to design GM vehicles. He spent his entire design career at GM, where he worked in a variety of studios on a diverse list of vehicles, and he became the highest-ranking African American in the automotive industry as the first-ever Vice President, GM Global Design.[5]

His designs have set records for speed on racetracks and sales in the marketplace. Among many other notable vehicles, he designed multiple pace cars for the Indianapolis 500, and led the design of the presidential limo, commonly known as 'The Beast', for both Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump.[6]

As the leader of GM Global Design, Welburn traveled the world attending auto shows and visiting his eleven design studios in seven countries, averaging 140,000 air miles each year.[citation needed]

Throughout his career, Welburn recognized a connection between fashion and automobile design. This kinship brought him to spearhead the creation of three automotive fashion shows; two in Detroit, and a third in Dubai. In these shows, GM's latest concept cars rolled down the runway alongside Hollywood and music industry celebrities wearing the latest fashions.

On April 7, 2016, he announced his retirement from General Motors after 44 years, effective July 1, 2016. He was succeeded by Michael Simcoe from GM Australia Design.[7]

After announcing his retirement, he launched The Welburn Group, a design consultancy.[8]

Welburn continues to advise GM Design on the development of their new design facility in Warren, MI.

Film and Television[edit]

Welburn has enjoyed a long relationship with the film industry, with the goal being to ensure GM products are placed in key roles in feature films. He notes his relationship with director Michael Bay, Paramount Pictures, and The Transformers (film series) movies featuring the Bumblebee Camaro as having been the most satisfying. His work on this modern-day film franchise led to a speaking role in Transformers: Age of Extinction.

He has also appeared on several automotive TV programs, including AmeriCarna, Jay Leno's Garage, and the automotive reality series Motor City Masters, where his weekly role was that of the authority on design and brands.

Charitable and Automotive Heritage Affiliations[edit]

Welburn serves an active role as a judge of classic cars at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance, Hilton Head Island Motoring Festival & Concours d’Elegance, and The Peninsula Classic.

He also serves on the Board of Directors for the College of Creative Studies, America On Wheels, LeMay - America's Car Museum, and Tony Bennett’s Exploring the Arts.

Personal life[edit]

Welburn comes from a close-knit family with roots in suburban Philadelphia. It was during a visit to the Philadelphia Auto Show as an 8-year-old that he decided he wanted a career in automotive design, and his mission to become an automotive designer for General Motors took on greater meaning when he wrote his first letter to GM at age 11. The company wrote back and recommended the steps he needed to take to achieve his dream.

In a July 7, 2016 interview with John McElroy on the program Autoline, Welburn stated that although officially retired, he has begun the process of writing an autobiography, in addition to having been asked by General Motors CEO Mary Barra to oversee a number of future General Motors products.[9]

He is married to his wife, Jessie, and has two adult children and two grandchildren.


In 2014, Welburn's passion for fashion landed him on Hour Detroit’s annual Best Dressed list.[10]

In 2016, General Motors dedicated its Center for African American Art at the Detroit Institute of Arts in Welburn's honor. The Detroit Free Press also honored him with its first-ever Difference Makers Lifetime Achievement Award, and most recently his body of work was turned over to the Smithsonian Institution museum, making him the first automobile designer to earn that distinction.

In 2017, Welburn was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts by the College for Creative Studies, a leading design school, and he was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame, a recognition that he holds as his highest professional honor.[11]

In 2018, he received the EyesOn Design Lifetime Design Achievement Award for his outstanding career in vehicle design.[12]


  1. ^ Curry, George E. (1 May 2014). "GM: intern advances to highest ranking Black in automobile industry". Our Weekly. Retrieved 21 July 2014.
  2. ^ http://gmauthority.com/blog/2014/12/chaparral-2x-now-available-for-download-in-gran-turismo-6-online-marketplace/
  3. ^ http://www.topspeed.com/cars/car-news/chevrolet-chaparral-2x-concept-is-now-available-on-gran-turismo-6-ar166727.html
  4. ^ "Edward T. Welburn, Jr. GM Vice President, Global Design".
  5. ^ https://www.welburndesign.com/product/public/us/en/welburn/bio.html
  6. ^ https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/23777/brand-new-beast-presidential-limousine-emerges-during-trumps-visit-to-nyc
  7. ^ "GM Design boss Ed Welburn retiring July 1". Autoweek.com. Autoweek. April 7, 2016. Retrieved 7 April 2016.
  8. ^ http://welburngroup.com/
  9. ^ "A Life In Design". Autoline. Retrieved 20 July 2016.
  10. ^ https://www.hourdetroit.com/detroit-bests/2014-best-dressed-list/
  11. ^ https://autoweek.com/article/people/ed-welburn-receives-doctorate-fine-arts-after-retirement
  12. ^ https://www.hemmings.com/blog/2018/06/22/eyeson-design-honors-ed-welburn-with-lifetime-achievement-award/