African American Living History: Retiring General Motors Designer Ed Welburn

African American Living History: Retiring General Motors Designer Ed Welburn

Ed Welburn is living African American history, so often when we read and talk about great people in African American culture it’s those folks from back in the day.

But Ed had one of the most visible and important jobs in the automotive industry and put a face to the art of designing cars.

I saw him on no less than three network car shows (most recently on CNBC’s Jay Leno’s Garage), discussing the history, development and importance of creating cars.

For a long time car guy like me to see a fellow African American not only embrace the spotlight but share his journey and his important role at General Motors is beyond special.

Ed officially retired on July 1st after an illustrious 44 year career at GM, finishing as only their sixth design leader. This was the office held by the legendary Harley Earl whom designed those iconic GM cars of the 1950’s & 1960s.

Ed started out when he was 11 years old and wrote to GM to see what he needed to study to be a car designer.

He followed their advice and graduated from Howard University in Washington DC with a degree in sculpture & design and started as an associate designer with GM in 1972.

Ed worked his way up through the Buick exterior studio and then to Oldsmobile’s studio and became their chief designer in 1989.

He then went global with the old Saturn brand in 1996 to Germany but then came back to the states in 1998 working at the Advanced Design center in Warren, MI and worked on development of hydrogen fuel cell concepts.

From there he was the executive director of design including body on frame architecture and then was responsible for the three truck studios in Warren MI.

I was in Warren just in April and it’s an impressive facility and in his interviews Ed always was so proud of the legacy of his office, from working in the same office as Harley Earl. Ed always talked about the future of design. You could just tell the man loves cars like the rest of us.

Lastly Ed was named Vice President of GM design North America in 2003 and then in 2005 Vice President of Global Design.

The work out of that office has included the innovative Chevrolet Volt, the North American Car of the year for 2008 the Chevrolet Malibu (which we have a 2011 Malibu, that car is incredible), and the World Car design of the Year for 2010 the Chevrolet Camaro. I also love that car reminds me of my late father’s old 1967 Camaro.

Ed has done so much for both the car community and the African American community, he’s deeply involved with his alma mater Howard University, securing over a million dollars in scholarships.

He’s worked in the car business through some tumultuous times and still make innovative cars that are fun to drive.

He’s been recognized by everyone from his alma mater Howard University to The Automotive Hall of Fame to legendary black publications like Ebony & Black Enterprise. Even the prestigious Le May- America’s Car Museum has honored him.

I’ll be honest as a black man and a car guy (and GM owner), I was always proud to see Ed on network TV talking about cars because not only is he historic in his role but seems to be a nice guy.

I’ll miss seeing him but wish him a happy retirement and his legacy at GM is now right up there with the legendary Harley Earl.

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