Incoming new design boss for General Motors, Mike Simcoe, says there’s little for him to do in his new role but for supporting the work of his predecessor, retiring 43-year GM veteran Ed Welburn.
Simcoe was announced as Welburn’s replacement today, having only found out on Tuesday that he’d got the gig. Born and raised in Australia, Simcoe is currently based in Melbourne, where he heads GM International Design under Welburn’s global leadership.
Simcoe will fly out to Detroit soon to begin his new job, with the handover effective from May 1. When he takes the top seat, Simcoe will be just the seventh global design chief in GM’s history, and the first non-American in the role.
What will be his first actions as the man in charge of the styling for every General Motors offering around the world? Speaking with Australian motoring media today including CarAdvice, Simcoe said he’ll take some time to get his feet under the desk, but he isn’t planning to make any drastic changes.
“I think, right now, I’d say we’re at the top of our game, there’s nothing better to be done. But that’d be too egotistical,” Simcoe joked.
“I need to make sure that the march that’s been happening under Ed’s watch continues, the march to well-recognised brand design; the competency and design has increased. It’s just gotten better, and my role is not to get in the way of that.
“The team globally has a huge capacity and it continues to improve, and I need to make sure my role supports and protects that.
“The people in all of our studios are, in many ways, are doing the best work we’ve ever done. I simply need to work out how I will operate with them globally,” he said.
But, while he won’t be enacting any major changes to Welburn’s vision, Simcoe sees plenty of scope for his 33 years of global experience as a designer with Holden and GM, to bring about useful improvement.
“I’m the first non-American in the role, but what that brings to the role is perhaps a global view. Ed introduced design and the global studios to a level of collaboration they’ve never experienced before and I need to keep that going, but I have a slightly different spin on that.
“I’ve worked at GM for 33 years, but largely on the outside of North America. Perhaps one thing that makes me apt for the role is that I do have a diverse global view. I’ve been involved in the creation of the studios in Korea, I basically built them up and brought that team into the GM global design mix.
Australian design team still among the best
Simcoe says he also worked to expand the “mature team down here in Australia”, which then went on to mentor design in the region, including GM’s studios in Korea.
The 140-strong Australian design team, under Holden design chief Richard Ferlazzo, will also continue to play a major role in GM’s global styling programs.
And, as one of only two GM facilities in the world capable of design and building a concept from scratch to motor-show readiness, alongside Detroit, the team at Holden is well placed.
“The team here has the capacity to do production and advanced work, and will continue to do that. My previous roles, and being Australian, means that they’re close to my heart. I grew up here and this team is pretty special to me. In many ways, I’ve protected it through the period of reinvention that Holden is going through at the moment.
“But they don’t live as a Holden entity, they’re part of the global GM operation. They live on because of the good work they do here, all of our studios do. I don’t see anything changing that. My job is to enable design to stay ahead of the industry, to remain on top of the game. This is one of the most diverse design operations, our ten studios, that any operation has.”
Simcoe said that, for a small team, the design and engineering groups in Melbourne “have had a huge impact” on GM globally.
“That’s something Ed has enabled, and yes I’ve had a hand with the team here and making sure the work we do is appreciated by GM globally. BUt I have to acknowledge that in the time Ed has been in charge of design, he sought out the Australian design opinion. Design was made more effective, globally, under Ed.
“Where there was good design happening, including Australia, he recognised it and helped us make it visible.”
In taking over from Ed Welburn, Simcoe will lead the work of over 2500 designers across GM's 10 global studios. Those teams will work on models for the well-known Holden, Chevrolet, GMC, Buick, Opel and Cadillac brands, among others.