By Alisha Dixon
The Automotive Hall of Fame will hold its 2017 Induction and Awards Gala Ceremony on Thursday, July 20, at Cobo Center to recognize four global automotive leaders for their contributions to the automotive industry. The award is the industry’s highest honor. This year’s inductees include Albert Bombassei, August Fruehauf, Jack Roush and Edward Welburn, recently retired General Motors vice president of Global Design.
“I was excited initially, but it has really grown from that. I don’t think anyone could understand how much of an impact this is having on me. The passion I’ve had for automobiles since my childhood is based on the cars I saw while growing up. These legendary cars were designed by designers who are now in the Hall of Fame. It’s those designers that have been my heroes since my childhood,” Welburn said. “Now, I’ll be listed along with my heroes. It’s unbelievable the impact it’s having on me.”
Referred to as “the man who brought beauty back to GM,” Welburn is the highest-ranking African American in the global automotive industry. During his 44-year areer, Welburn rose through General Motors’ ranks beginning as GM’s first African American designer to becoming the first African American to lead GM’s Global Design division, a position he held from 2003 to 2016.
“I was the first African American designer hired by GM and it wasn’t something that I thought about at the time. I just wanted to design cars,” he said.
As head of GM Design, Welburn was GM’s sixth head of design and the first to lead the company’s design division on a global level. He managed the designs of the latest Corvette, Camaro, Malibu, Buick LaCrosse and Enclave and Cadillac CTS and numerous concepts that include the Buick Invicta and Avista and Cadillac Ciel.
Born in Philadelphia, Welburn’s love for cars began during his childhood. A trip to the 1958 Philadelphia International Auto Show was a pivotal moment for the 8 year old.
“I’ve been drawing cars since I was two and a half. At age 8, I was at the auto show with my parents and I saw a concept car that just totally blew my mind and I told my parents right there, at age 8, that when I grow up I’m going to design cars for that company. It was the Cadillac Cyclone concept,” the former GM VP said.
“By age 11, I figured out where that car and other GM cars were designed, and I wrote a letter to GM Design asking for guidance in becoming a designer and they encouraged me to keep sketching cars and to study design.”
That guidance inspired Welburn to study product design and sculpture at Howard University’s College of Fine Arts where he earned a bachelor of fine arts degree in 1972.
After graduating from Howard, he was hired by General Motors as a junior designer before becoming GM’s head of Global Design.
“When you are in the same category as Henry Ford, Alfred Sloan at General Motors, Walter P. Chrysler, Mr. Honda, Mr. Toyota, Karl Benz, those are obviously enormous names in the car business and from the Automotive Hall of Fame’s perspective, this year’s inductees are comparable to those names,” said aWilliam Chapin, president, Automotive Hall of Fame.
“For Ed Welburn, there is no question that his leadership at General Motors Design and the things that he accomplished, not only the products that he designed, but his responsibility for design at General Motors, had a huge impact on our decision to induct him.”