To say General Motors global design chief Ed Welburn is busy would be an understatement. In a recent interview with Automotive News, Welburn said he’s looking to add to his 900 person-strong design team in Warren, Mich. as they attempt to churn out more new products. According to him, “all of our (GM’s) studios around the world are just running flat out,” making it an exciting time within the automaker’s studio walls.
Welburn says he needs additional employees as car design has become more complex. If you look at a headlight from today and place it next to one from 10 years ago, there’s a good chance the modern light is more complex, both in technology and design. Welburn says this applies to many small parts on a car, like the gauge clusters, for example, making vehicle accessory development “a much more aggressive activity than ever before.”
In addition to acquiring more employees, the significant changes currently going on at Cadillac are also at the forefront of Welburn’s mind. He says the luxury brand’s move to New York changes things for Cadillac and the future of its design “in a positive way.” All Cadillac design work will still be done in Warren, however Cadillac designers will spend more time in New York and other areas where they can be exposed to and influenced by other luxury goods. And Welburn doesn’t mean cars when he says that.
Welburn pulls design inspiration from a variety of places. Last year he left the Paris Auto Show in order to wander the city’s streets in search of boutique fashion stores in which he could get inspiration from. He says he likes to “look at what’s happening in product design, furniture design, even a second look at midcentury design,” when designing interiors and exteriors.
If he had to name an automotive brand in which he respects their design philosophy, it would be Aston Martin. Welburn says he’s attracted to Aston Martin as he enjoys “the execution of the form” and more traditional designs. For interiors, he likes Volkswagen, as the quality is “quite good” even on some of the automaker’s low budget models.
When it comes to the future of GM vehicles, Welburn says the need to reduce mass and improve aerodynamics for efficiency reasons will affect vehicle design. In order to improve aerodynamics, cars will become lower in the front. This way of thinking appears to have been applied in the next-generation Malibu and Cruze, both of which appear lower and wider than their predecessors. Welburn says making a car lower while retaining interior space takes a lot of planning, and those that can do it “are the ones that can be successful.”
Welburn is fast approaching his 10th anniversary as GM’s first-ever global design chief. The 64-year old has big things planned, so check out his Q&A with Automotive News here for some additional insights.