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GM’s Renaissance Design Chief Ed Welburn Retiring

Groundbreaking 44-year veteran credited with helping Detroit maker regain image of styling leadership.

by on Apr.07, 2016

GM design chief Ed Welburn unveiled the Buick Avenir at the 2015 Detroit Auto Show.

He got his inspiration at an early age, just 10 and visiting the Philadelphia Auto Show. There, Ed Welburn got a look at a 1961 General Motors concept car, the jet-like Cadillac Cyclone. He was hooked and dreamed of becoming an automotive designer.

As an African-American growing up in the years before the Civil Rights Act was passed, it might have seemed the impossible dream, yet Welburn broke through all sorts of barriers in a 44-year career that will come to an end on July 1st as he cedes the reins as GM’s global design chief to 33-year veteran Michael Simcoe.

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By Design!

Over the past decade, Welburn nurtured a creative, inclusive and customer-focused culture among our designers that has strengthened our global brands,” said GM chairman and CEO Mary Barra.

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GM Tech Center Still Reeling from Flooding

R&D and Design operations hard hit.

by on Aug.21, 2014

The GM Tech Center was one of the premier projects of architect Eero Saarinen.

General Motor Co. is still struggling to get its huge, suburban Detroit technical center back in operation 10 days after it was flooded by a huge storm that dumped more some five inches of rain on the Motor City.

The rain and flooding, which claimed three lives in the Detroit area, also forced GM, Ford Motor Co. and the Chrysler Group to shut down production at some key plants around Detroit.

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But the largest disruption was at the General Motors Technical Center in the suburb of Warren, which is normally home to more than 19,500 full-time employees and contractors. Almost all of them were forced to abandon their work stations in the immediate aftermath of the flooding, which began during the late afternoon and early evening of Monday, August 11 when what has been described as a 100-year storm hammered the city.

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Design Remains More Art than Digital Science

Designers search for the balance between passion and hard data.

by on May.08, 2014

GM Designer Tom Peters with the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette. He led the exterior design team.

While sophisticated technology has become an essential tool in the modern automotive styling studio, it still requires a human touch to bring designs to life.

“The artistic aspect is critical to car design,” stressed Tom Peters, the lead designers at General Motors for performance cars, during a discussion on car design at a meeting of the Automotive Press Association. “It’s through the human touch the passion is instilled in cars,” added Peters.  “Our products are very tactile, you have to engage the senses.”

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Designed for You!

Though infotainment systems and fuel economy have becoming increasingly critical, competitive elements in today’s auto market, design remains one of the most important factors for shoppers choosing a new vehicle, studies reveal. In fact, there are many who contend that this is a new “Golden Age” for stylists as even brands like Toyota and Hyundai that traditionally settled for “plain vanilla” styling push for more passion in their products.

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Corvette Museum Extracting Cars from Sinkhole

Vehicles proving to be tough cookies as “Blue Devil” driven out.

by on Mar.04, 2014

Workers use a crane to extract the 1993 40th Anniversary Chevrolet Corvette from the sinkhole at the National Corvette Museum.

Officials at the National Corvette Museum got their first bits of good news as the first two cars extracted from the sinkhole at the site appeared to be in better shape than expected. In fact, one was even driven out of the building after being lifted out.

During the early morning hours of Feb. 12, a 30-foot deep sinkhole opened up underneath the museum’s SkyDome, swallowing up eight historic ’Vettes in the process. The museum is located in Bowling Green, Ky.

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After making sure the area was safe, officials began the process of extracting the vehicles on Saturday with some test lifts. The first two vehicles – 1993 40th Anniversary Edition Corvette and the 2009 Corvette ZR-1 “Blue Devil” – came out yesterday. (more…)

GM Design Overseeing Restoration of Sinkhole Vettes

Specialty shop in design charged with handling the project.

by on Feb.13, 2014

A 1993 40th Anniversary Corvette Convertible in Ruby Red was one of the cars damaged by the sinkhole at the National Corvette Museum.

After 24 hours of uncertainty about the fate of the eight Corvettes swallowed up by a sinkhole under the National Corvette Museum, Chevrolet announced it will oversee the restoration of the vehicles.

Once the vehicles are retrieved from the hole, they will travel to Warren, Mich., where General Motors Design will take charge of the project. Ed Welburn, vice president of GM Global Design, will oversee the restoration.

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“The vehicles at the National Corvette Museum are some of the most significant in automotive history,” said Mark Reuss, executive vice president of General Motors Global Product Development. “There can only be one 1-millionth Corvette ever built. We want to ensure as many of the damaged cars are restored as possible so fans from around the world can enjoy them when the Museum reopens.” (more…)

GM Using “Voice of Customer” to Transform Product Development Process

"Customer Engagement Centers" aim to resolve problems on current, future models.

by on Mar.12, 2013

GM's quality and service chief Alicia Boler-Davis wants to use the "voice of the customer" to both solve current problems and prevent issues on future models.

General Motors plans to use customers’ comments — and complaints — to guide the company’s designers and engineers as they develop new products.

That will be a critical role for the new “Customer Engagement Center” at the company’s chief technical center in Warren, Michigan. The new initiative is also designed to improve the customer experience for GM owners by staffing the new Engagement Center with advisors trained to reach out to new owners to answer questions and to resolve most issues on the spot.

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“We’re not waiting for customers to come to us,” said Alicia Boler-Davis, vice president of Global Quality and U.S. Customer Experience. “We proactively reach out to offer support and open a dialogue with our Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac customers. This includes our social media team interacting on Facebook, Twitter and popular vehicle forums to offer assistance.”

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Designer Dave Lyon Also Out at GM

Was to have headed Opel/Vauxhall.

by on Jul.30, 2012

GM designer Dave Lyon with the GMC Acadia Denali at the 2013 Chicago Auto Show.

The revolving door at General Motors continues to spin ever faster.  And designer Dave Lyon is the latest to fly out onto the street.

His unexpected departure was confirmed just as GM announced the “voluntary” termination of global marketing chief Joel Ewanick.  But at least a half-dozen other senior executives have either left or been shoved out from the maker’s global empire in recent weeks, including the head of GM’s battery-car program.

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The 43-year-old Lyon was considered a rising star within the GM design world and could have firmed up his future in the assignment he was expected to take in the coming days as head of styling for the troubled Opel/Vauxhall subsidiary.

Lyon had already earned a solid reputation for his work on products as diverse as the GMC Acadia Denali and the new Cadillac XTS.  He oversaw development of the interior design for the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid, as well.

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What’s Right About GM?

Despite going into bankruptcy, there are plenty of things right about General Motors that could support an eventual revival.

by on Jun.01, 2009

GM needs to stop launching two dogs for every one hit, admits CEO Henderson. The Chevy Malibu is a sign the maker does have something going for it.

GM needs to stop launching two dogs for every one hit, admits CEO Henderson. The Chevy Malibu is a sign the maker does have something going for it.

“There are no second chances,” stressed General Motors CEO Fritz Henderson, as he wrapped up a media briefing called to detail the bankruptcy of the 101-year-old automaker.

The automaker today filed for bankruptcy protection, a process that is expected to take it at least 60 to 90 days to pass through before emerging as a “new” GM.  To prop up the giant maker during its transition, and to keep it going while the economy recovers, bondholders and union workers have agreed to billions of dollars in sacrifices, while the Obama Administration will invest another $30 billion, bringing the value of the government’s aid to a total of $50 billion.

Is it worth it?  Will taxpayers, in particular, get their money back out? President Barack Obama insisted the automaker had come up with “a viable and achievable plan that will give this iconic brand a chance to rise again.”

Not everyone is convinced. Analyst Joe Phillippi, of AutoTrends Consulting, said “A lot of folks are rather skeptical” about GM’s plans, particularly when it comes to the 18% to 18.5% market share it hopes to maintain.

Yet despite some concerns, analysts say there are also reasons to feel upbeat about GM’s chances.  The automaker’s CEO, Fritz Henderson, acknowledged that even though critical elements of the turnaround plan had come together without a bankruptcy filing, the move into Chapter 11 helps clear out some of the other chains that bind the company. It will, among other things, make it easier to shed unprofitable assets and to reduce its bloated retail network. (more…)

Hyundai Woos Top GM designer

Could imports tap Big 3 troubles and steal Detroit's best?

by on Apr.03, 2009

Veteran GM Designer Phil Zak, shown here with his '05 Chevrolet Cobalt, is moving to Hyundai.

GM Designer Phil Zak, with his 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt, is moving to Hyundai.

General Motors has lost another top designer to a Korean competitor. Hyundai America Technical Center has announced that Phillip Zak has been named chief designer of the Hyundai Design Center in Irvine, California.  Zak will be responsible for new vehicle and concept design for Hyundai, officials for the Korean automaker said.

Though design departments have been among the most protected operations in Detroit, the domestic industry’s ongoing problems – and the appeal of the new – threaten to lead to a brain drain from Detroit’s styling studios, industry observers caution.

“Phillip’s strong experience in working across multiple regions and his leadership role on advanced projects was exactly what we were looking for,” said C.K. Park, president, HATCI.  “We are thrilled to have Phillip Zak as chief designer for Hyundai and continue the strong momentum of our vehicle designs.”

Zak has more than 20 years of automotive design experience at GM and most recently served as the design director for General Motors Europe where he was responsible for all Opel and Saab exterior production design work and future strategies.  Zak started his career at General Motors in 1988 as a designer sketching new vehicle concepts.  During his 20-year career at General Motors he held various positions including lead designer, chief designer and design manager.

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