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As GM's new studio boss, Ed Welburn is living his boyhood fantasy. But can the soft-spoken stylist give the stuffy automaker a makeover?


Smooth stylist: Ed Welburn with the SSR Roadster, right, and the Buick Velite concept car 
By Keith Naughton
Newsweek

May 31 issue - Many fathers and sons bond over baseball. For Ed Welburn and his father, it was cars. Beginning when he was 2, Welburn and his dad would lie on the living-room floor of their Philadelphia home, scribbling away for hours. Dad, a car buff who owned an auto-repair shop, penciled long-nosed 1930s Duesenbergs, and little Eddie traced over them. Finally confident enough to draw on his own, Eddie, not yet 3, took down every book from his parents' shelves and scrawled cars inside their covers. When Evelyn Welburn discovered the graffiti in dozens of books, she didn't scold her toddler. "I told everyone, 'You should see what my little boy can do'," she recalls.

A half century after leaving his mark in Mom's books, Ed Welburn, 53, is living his childhood fantasy: he's the new chief designer for the world's largest automaker, General Motors. Only the sixth man to hold that job in GM's 95-year history, Welburn also is the first African-American to run the design studio of any major automaker. But he has landed his dream job at a time when GM design is at a crossroads. Over the three decades that Welburn has toiled in GM's studios, a burgeoning bureaucracy has sapped stylists of the almighty power they had back in the days of tailfins and gleaming chrome. Engineers and focus groups have dictated design. The result: blandmobiles that GM marketed on price rather than style. Things began to turn three years ago with the arrival of vice chairman Bob Lutz, —the veteran auto ace who engineered Chrysler's ' 90s design renaissance. Now with Lutz as his powerful patron, Welburn is out to make GM a hot design house again. His strategy: think, and act, small. A natty dresser who has his own Italian tailor and can spend hours shopping at Barneys, Welburn figures that each of GM's eight brands can act as its own fashion line, catering to car buyers who increasingly put a premium on style. "There are so many choices now," he says. "It's a real advantage to have all these brands."
Welburn oversees an army of 600 designers at 11 studios around the world, but don't expect proclamations of design philosophy from on high. So soft-spoken he's almost inaudible, Welburn is the antithesis of the ego-driven car designer. Since taking over several months ago, he's been busy traveling the globe to meet his designers on their turf. His message: take risks and you will see your wildest dream cars on the road. After all, Welburn's the guy who gave life to the Chevy SSR hot-rod pickup and the edgy Cadillac Escalade. Though he is pushing his designers, he's not pushing them out of the way. When they struggle, he talks them through it rather than foisting his own drawings on them. "When the boss's sketch comes in," he says, "the designers drop their pencils." Welburn's crew is getting raves for its latest creation, the finely tailored Buick Velite convertible with its gleaming, shield-shaped grille. But skepticism remains. "The difficulty he faces," says auto consultant Wes Brown of Iceology, "is bringing stylistic flair into GM's conservative, mainstream cars."
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I hope that GM's production vehicles begin to consistently reflect the awesome talent of GM's design studies. It's long overdue, and I'm somewhat frustrated listening to all of the hype.
 
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Yea, look at the Velite. It's stance is low and wide. It must corner like a train.

Those guys in the design studios must come into work and leave work with a big a$$ smile across their faces. :woot2:

And, I think the materials the 'General' is starting to use, match what we, and all the rest of the auto consumers have come to expect from the 'General'.

I would like to see metal nameplates on the exterior of some of these vehicles, however. I think its a nice finishing touch.

One downside on the SSR. The Chevron across the front, I thought was gonna be real polished aluminum. <_<

Now we need to get the Lions in the Super Bowl !!!!!!!! :woot2:

:mf_boff: :lol:
 
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It's cool that some of these new models are getting some good exposure on MSNBC. It would be nice if FOX or MSNBC would do a 1/2 or 1 hour segment on the 'rebirth' of Detroit (300C, SSR, etc.).

oh well, this is a start.

cool, and the dude is a brother.

"Can you help out a brother?"

B)
 

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Originally posted by New_Mexico_Sunset_on_Rt66@May 26 2004, 02:54 PM

One downside on the SSR. The Chevron across the front, I thought was gonna be real polished aluminum.  <_<

What??? You expect that for $45K?

Note this quote from the article..."Welburn, then working on mundane family cars, still compulsively doodled race cars in his spare time. "

It's as if there's a big trench between the excitement of specialty cars and the mundane aspects of mainstream cars, and it epitomizes GM's current situation. We have a bunch of boring mainstream cars sharing showroom space with several desirable but inattainable or low-volume models. GM won't achieve success until the passion that ignited the Aerotech, SSR and H2 finds its way into stuff like Malibu and Ion. Of course, the implication in the article is that Welburn is the guy to make that happen. But it's fairly clear he's not been too associated with mainstream stuff over the years. It'll take time to see if someone with a taste for Italian tailoring and shaken martinis can bring excitement to the Levis and Budweisers of the lineup.
 

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Originally posted by desmo9+May 26 2004, 05:07 PM--></div><table border='0' align='center' width='95%' cellpadding='3' cellspacing='1'><tr><td>QUOTE (desmo9 @ May 26 2004, 05:07 PM)</td></tr><tr><td id='QUOTE'> <!--QuoteBegin-New_Mexico_Sunset_on_Rt66@May 26 2004, 02:54 PM

One downside on the SSR. The Chevron across the front, I thought was gonna be real polished aluminum.   <_<

What??? You expect that for $45K?

Note this quote from the article..."Welburn, then working on mundane family cars, still compulsively doodled race cars in his spare time. "

It's as if there's a big trench between the excitement of specialty cars and the mundane aspects of mainstream cars, and it epitomizes GM's current situation. We have a bunch of boring mainstream cars sharing showroom space with several desirable but inattainable or low-volume models. GM won't achieve success until the passion that ignited the Aerotech, SSR and H2 finds its way into stuff like Malibu and Ion. Of course, the implication in the article is that Welburn is the guy to make that happen. But it's fairly clear he's not been too associated with mainstream stuff over the years. It'll take time to see if someone with a taste for Italian tailoring and shaken martinis can bring excitement to the Levis and Budweisers of the lineup. [/b][/quote]
Well said, desmo9, in your usual well-spoken manner...
 

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agreed. desmo is right on the money. it's like they design family cars intentionally to be dull and unattractive, like it's a requirement for the segment or something. i don't get it. look back at the 50's and 60's impala's, and other large family cars from all the makes back then. all of the designs were outrageous and unique, and now they're all classics. those cars were nothing more than mainstream family cars. i'm not positive, correct me if i'm wrong...but i think the impala was the best selling car in the USA in 58, and just look at the 58, 59, and 60 models....some of the most out of this world styling you'll find from that era. and they're all beautiful.
 

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Originally posted by Smaart Aas Saabr@May 26 2004, 08:40 PM
Yeah. Styling is free. You can make a Cavalier that looks like a Corvette and the cost is neglidgeable. And of course sales are higher too.
Wow. I thought exactly the same thing. Why do you need to pay a lot to look good? 450hp in a econobox costs something. But design costs nothing.

I can't add, you took the words right out of my mind. :p

BTW, the car that defies the money-to-looks factor the best is, in my opinion, the Tiburon.
 

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That's not true. Usually a well styled car has several design elements and it costs more to put those creases into the sheet metal.

Since the automakers make a lot of these econo cars, $100 extra per car on styling elements doesn't sound like a lot, but multiply it by 50,000 cars and it adds up real fast.

OTOH, if they made the cars look nicer, maybe they wouldn't have to give the rebates.
 
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