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BLACK ENGINEER OF THE YEAR AWARD WINNERS


are the leading models producing profits for the American auto industry. In 2014, for instance, the Chevrolet Silverado, with 437,821 sold going into Decem- ber, was second only to the Ford F-100 series pickups — 688,810 sold — at the top of the 20 best-selling vehicle models in American sales. Naming an African-American chief of design for those products was not an exercise in public relations. It meant General Motors executives had complete faith in that African American’s abilities and belief in the strength of his talent.


Stepping up to the Big Stage


And the beat went on. In 2003 GM


named Welburn vice president, GM Design North America, making him the sixth design leader in the company’s his- tory. Three years later, Welburn stepped up yet again, to his present post as vice president, global design, responsible for design and development of every GM concept and production car in every na- tion in which GM markets automobiles. He leads some 2,500 design team work- ers in centers in the U.S., Germany, Ko- rea, China, Australia, Brazil, and India. Welburn has won wide recognition, including watching his team’s newly redesigned Cadillac ATS win “North American Car of the Year” honors and “Best in Show” honors from Auto Week


Ed Welburn, vice president of global design at General Motors, prepares to take a ride.


and the Detroit News for the Chevrolet Corvette, as well as the “Eyes on Design Best Production Vehicle Design” award for the Cadillac ELR.


Note that the Cadillac ATS saw a 755-percent sales growth,


year-to-date, in November 2014 compared to 2013. The Cadillac XTS saw 147-percent growth year-over-year, and the Chevrolet Spark saw 219-percent growth.


The Cadillac Elmiraj concept car won critical acclaim at the Annual Concours d’Elegance in Pebble Beach, California, while Welburn stood chatting with film actor Clint Eastwood. Maybe “Dirty Harry” might want to drive that car.


Keeping his course in a rough economy In 2008, the Great Recession, the worst economic downturn since the Depression of the 1930s, knocked auto sales almost into the cellar. General Motors and Chrysler executives trav- eled to Washington to plead for help from the federal govern- ment, and many Americans — especially questioners in the U.S. Congress — debated whether the U.S. auto industry was worth saving with a federal bailout. Design chief Ed Welburn was undaunted still. Knowing the way out of hard economic challenges was hard work, Welburn called together some 800 professionals in GM’s Warren design center and said, “I know you read headlines every day and every place you go, you hear about the challenges of General Motors. You guys stay focused on what you do, and when we come out


24 USBE&IT I WINTER 2015


on the other side of this, everyone’s going to know what the GM products are.” GMs’s people persevered, as did Welburn himself. And on Jan. 31, 2012, Welburn, flush with success as the first-ever African-American design chief in automobile manufacturing history, having helped lead his company back to profitability as the country climbed out of the worst economic morass since the 1930s, met with America’s first African-American president, Barack Obama. Standing with the president near his prized prod- uct at the Washington Auto Show — and sitting together inside the car, a 2013 Chevy Malibu — Welburn listened while Obama gave him what he later called a candid assessment of what hap- pened after the bailout.


“He let me know how proud he was of the work that I do,”


Welburn told a reporter for an online news service, “and I was just like, wow. At the very last vehicle, he … just remarked that the design of GM cars has gotten so much better in the past few years.”


And in April 2014, with GM’s position atop the indus- trial scene again assured with rising sales and models rising in reliability as well as popularity, a headline in the Long Island newspaper Newsday said it all: “Ed Welburn Restored General Motors luster with provoca-


tive design.”


Fitting praise for a man who never wavered from his dream, never faltered in his drive to be the best of the best in a world flooded with competitors from all sides.


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