Born on the 14th of December 1950, Edward T. Welburn received his bachelor’s degree from the College of Fine Arts at Howard University in Washington, D.C and joined GM at the age of 21, and has been ever since. Welburn is now General Motors’ vice president of global design and is responsible for every product under the GM umbrella.
At the 2015 Geneva Motor Show, I had the great opportunity to have an interview with the man himself. I asked him questions like how big a responsibility it was to design the latest Corvette, the decision to bring back the iconic Stingray name, and of course, how he ended up in the new Transformers movie!
Enjoy the interview below!
How did you become a designer?
Well, what is key is that a designer has got to have a passion for automobiles. And we are very good artists, you need to be able to take your ideas that you’re very passionate about and share them with others. So to be artistic is a great way of doing it. I wanted to be a designer since I was very young, since I was a child. And so I went to a design school (Howard University) to really train my skills.
Today there are great schools for design, and when I went to design school back then, there were very few schools that had a major in transportation design. So what you do is you would learn design, and not only do I want to learn design, I want to learn sculpture. The best cars on this exhibit here (Cadillac) are very sculptured, and have great shape. And so having an understanding of sculpture is a real advantage.
My parents took me to an auto show when I was eight years old and I saw a Cadillac concept car and I told my parents when I grow up I want to design cars for that company.
Do you still remember which concept car?
Oh yes! The Cadillac Cyclone. We (GM) still own that car in a private collection.
So what’s your latest product that you have designed for GM?
Well you know I’m responsible for design of every GM products, for all our brands. For Cadillac, GMC, Buick, Chevrolet, Opel, Vauxhall, Holden, Wuling, and Baojun.
Including the ones only on sale in Australia?
Yes and the ones sold in China. Every General Motors products sold, all of them were.
So you are the one who finalized all the designs?
Yes. I overlook all of them, keeping eye on every one of those brands.
What’s your latest product here at the Geneva show?
Well here at the Geneva show, we have the new Opel Carl and here (Cadillac) we have the ATS and CTS-V for Cadillac and then of course Corvette.
And the most challenging car to design, would you say is the Corvette because of the heritage?
It is a challenge, and there is a lot of pressure. There is pressure in every vehicle, and I take every project very seriously, no matter if it’s a Corvette or a Chevy Cruze or an Opel Astra. But Corvette has got such a long history so there is significant pressure in designing that car. Is important that the new car looks like a Corvette, is recognized as a Corvette, but it’s got to be a very new statement. So finding that right balance is a challenge, it’s not easy. I feel very good about this latest Corvette.
And who decided to bring back the Stingray name?
The studio wanted to call it Stingray. They wanted badly and I told them early on that it has got to be a very special Corvette to have the Stingray name, in my opinion. There has been a lot of great Corvette that really weren’t Stingrays. They were great cars, but as the car was developing there was a certain point where I thought okay, this is starting to feel like a Stingray. So I supported going after the name Corvette Stingray.
You know I have to ask this. How did you end up in the movie Transformers?
Ah haha! Well I know Michael Bay very well, and I’ve worked with him on every Transformers movie. And his way of thanking me was to be in the movie. Also there was a scene where they’re at the office of the CIA, and they were in this office with wood paneling, that’s my office. And the lobby of the building, that is our design building.
They spent about three weeks filming at Design, because they used the lobby, they used my office, and they used some of the exterior scenes. And there were scenes where there’s a lot of video, you know the room with a lot of video screens and all that. That was at Design.
It was a great pleasure to speak with such an influential figure in the automotive industry. Unlike what his high-ranking title may suggest, Welburn speaks with a friendly and humble tone and very approachable, just like Christian von Koenigsegg whom I spoke to on the same day. If only our politicians were half as friendly and intelligent as these great automotive figures, the world will be a better place. Oh well…