Michael Simcoe scores top GM design job

8 April 2016
 by 
, CarsGuide

He used to sketch cars on the back of his school notebooks, now he’s in charge of design for all future General Motors vehicles.

The Melbourne man who designed the modern Monaro -- and every Holden Commodore since the 1980s -- has been given one of the biggest promotions in the automotive world.

Former head of Holden design, Michael Simcoe, has been appointed the global styling chief for General Motors, only the seventh person in the 107-year history of the company to take the role.

In the new job Mr Simcoe will be responsible for more than 100 car models across all of General Motors' seven iconic brands, including Cadillac, Chevrolet, Buick and Holden.

Mr Simcoe will be in charge of 2500 designers working at 10 styling studios in seven countries, including 140 designers at Holden in Port Melbourne who will continue to work on global vehicles after the car assembly line in Adelaide closes in late 2017.

As the first non American in the role, Mr Simcoe said he would bring "a global view".

"But to be honest the team in all of the design studios is doing the best work it's ever done," he said.

When asked if he ever dreamt of getting the top design job Mr Simcoe said: "No I didn't. Did I think a year ago I would have this role? No. This is a dream job and I'm humbled by the whole thing. I only found out on Tuesday that I got the job and to be honest it's still sinking in."

Mr. Simcoe is said to have knocked back the top design job in the early 2000s to stay at Holden to finish the next generation Commodore.

Mr Simcoe will move back to Detroit by the end of this month to take up the role on May 1. His wife Margaret will join him later in the year.

"Clearly there's impact on family, this will be the third time (in Detroit) for her. Fortunately we have a network of friends from when we were in America last time."

Mr Simcoe, who has worked for General Motors for 33 years, is said to have knocked back the top design job in the early 2000s because he wanted to stay at Holden to finish the next generation Commodore.

He didn't know it at the time, but that Commodore would turn out to be the last ever homegrown model, with the Holden factory in Elizabeth due to close forever in late 2017.

In 2003, Mr Simcoe was put in charge of General Motors' styling studio in South Korea, responsible for the Asia-Pacific region, before being promoted again to a senior design role in Detroit the following year.

After seven years abroad Mr Simcoe returned to Australia in 2011, after he was appointed the head of General Motors' design for all international markets outside North America, operating out of Holden's Port Melbourne head quarters.

Mr Simcoe has worked for Holden since 1983, and had a hand in the design of all Commodores since 1986.

The Commodore Coupe concept was built after Mr Simcoe sketched it out on a blank canvass during home renovations.

As well as styling the wildly oversized rear wing on the 1988 Holden Special Vehicles Commodore that replaced special editions built by Peter Brock, Mr Simcoe is also credited with designing the Commodore Coupe concept car that stunned the 1998 Sydney motor show crowd.

Initially created purely as a tease to take attention away from the new Ford Falcon at the time, the public demanded the Commodore Coupe be built and it became the modern Monaro from 2001 to 2006.

The Commodore Coupe concept was built after Mr Simcoe sketched it out on a blank canvass hanging on a wall during home renovations on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Mr Simcoe took the sketch into work and the design team decided to build a full-size model. It eventually became the modern Monaro and led to the start of Holden exports to North America.

In 2004 and 2005 Holden sold 31,500 Monaros as a Pontiac GTO in the US -- more than twice the number of Monaros sold locally over four years.

After a brief hiatus Holden revived its export deal with Pontiac by shipping the Commodore there as the G8 sedan.

Mr Simcoe will replace Ed Welburn, who has worked for General Motors since 1972.

More than 41,000 Commodores were sold as Pontiacs between November 2007 and February 2009, almost equivalent to Holden's annual sales of Commodore at the time -- but the deal ended when the Pontiac brand was axed in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis.

In 2011, the Holden Caprice luxury car was converted to a police vehicle and exported to the US for government fleets only.

The Commodore sedan returned to the US in late 2013 badged as a Chevrolet.

Both Chevrolet versions of the Australian-made Caprice and Commodore continue to be exported to the US today.

Mr Simcoe will replace Ed Welburn, who has worked for General Motors since 1972 and was appointed global head of design in 2003.

Are you proud to see an Australian in the top design job at General Motors? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

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