Australia’s Michael Simcoe, after a 33-year stint on General Motors design team and currently Vice President of GM International Design, has been appointed to Vice President of GM global Design and will start transitioning into his new role from May.

Simcoe will replace GM Design chief Ed Welburn, who last week announced his retirement will take effect on July 1, following a 44-year stint with GM.

Welburn, 65, has been celebrated inside and outside the industry for his extraordinary achievements. He has led GM Design since 2003, and globally since 2005, the first African-American from any automaker to do so.

“GM Design is among the most respected and sought-after organisations in the industry because of Ed’s leadership. He nurtured a creative, inclusive and customer-focused culture among our designers that has strengthened our global brands,” said Mary Barra, GM chairman and CEO.

Under Welburn’s leadership, GM built a network of 10 design centres in seven countries. His team of more than 2,500 creatives based – in the U.S., Germany, South Korea, China, Australia, Brazil and India – combined their efforts to collaborate on the design development of every GM concept and production car, truck and crossover.

Simcoe will become only the company’s seventh design leader, and the first non-American to take on the challenging role. Simcoe will relocate to Detroit and his successor in GM International will be announced in due course.

“I am incredibly proud and humbled to be offered this dream role,” said Simcoe. “I want to thank Ed, congratulate him on an amazing career and wish him all the very best in the next chapter of his life. He leaves very big shoes to fill. Not only is he an incredible designer but an outstanding teacher, mentor, leader and friend.

“The prospect of heading up General Motors Design is humbling and somewhat daunting but I am supported by an extremely talented and passionate global team, the best in the industry.”

Mark Reuss, executive vice president, Global Product Development and Global Purchasing and Supply Chain, announced Simcoe’s promotion and commended Welburn.

“Given his deep global experience and passion for breakthrough design, Michael is the right person to lead GM Global Design,” said Reuss. “He is known for his ability to take diverse ideas and mold them into great products that surprise and delight our customers.”

Reuss recognised Welburn for his creative imprint on four decades of iconic vehicles and his leadership in identifying and developing world-class talent.

“Ed’s team turns out one award-winning product after another … and his strong bench will keep GM Design on top for years to come,” he said.

Simcoe has been in his current role since 2014, overseeing GM’s production and advanced studios in Korea, Australia and India. He is known for applying global design excellence and creativity to the company’s distinct brands.

He joined GM in 1983 as a designer at Holden in Australia, and is Holden’s brand champion. In 1995, he became director of Design for GM Asia Pacific and, in 2003, was named executive director of Asia Pacific Design and led the development of the new GM Korea design operations under Welburn’s leadership.

The following year he became executive director of North American Exterior Design, responsible for critical and commercial successes like the GMC Terrain, Buick LaCrosse, Chevrolet Camaro and Equinox, and Cadillac CTS.

More recently, he led the team responsible for the award-winning Buick Avenir Concept. Last month, he introduced the Chevrolet Colorado Xtreme and Trailblazer Premier show cars at the Bangkok International Motor Show