"He knows the intricacies of load paths and body engineering," Lutz told Automotive News. "You could take him out of styling and put him in charge of body engineering, and it would probably work out just as well."
Lutz says Simcoe is in some ways the opposite of the dapper, soft-spoken Welburn. He'll be more confrontational than Welburn, but that is the right attitude for this era, said Lutz, who, about a decade ago, forced a reorganization that restored responsibility for design decisions to GM design staff.
"Mostly the engineers look at a clay model and say, "That's not going to work. You can't have the windshield touch-down point that far forward. It's going to be too hard to meet crash standards, and we'll need two or three more inches of overhang. You can't do this and you can't do that.'
"Well, most designers fold up their tent and say, "Really? Gee, that's too bad. That's going to spoil the car. But, yeah, if you say so.' Whereas, Mike Simcoe very politely says: "Well, what about such and such construction? Why wouldn't this work here? And look at this competitive car that has the same overhang.' He not only pushes back against the engineers, but he offers solutions. I've never seen a designer do that before," Lutz said.
Mark Reuss, GM's global product development chief, said: "Given his deep global experience and passion for breakthrough design, Michael is the right person to lead GM global design. He is known for his ability to take diverse ideas from around the world and mold then into great products that surprise and delight our customers."
Simcoe, currently vice president of design for GM International based in Australia, is a 33-year GM veteran who has held a number of top management positions.
He joined GM Holden as a designer in 1983 after earning a degree in industrial design from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. By 1987, Simcoe was Holden's chief designer and had a hand in every vehicle the Australian brand produced. In 1995, Simcoe's design responsibility expanded beyond Australia to include all of Asia Pacific when GM put him in charge of joint vehicles produced by GM alliance partners such as Suzuki, Daewoo, Isuzu and Fuji Heavy Industries.
In 2003, Simcoe was appointed executive director of Asia Pacific Design. Then in 2004, he became executive director for North American Exterior Design and in 2009 also brand champion for Chevrolet. During that time, Simcoe led the design development of the GMC Terrain, Buick LaCrosse, Chevrolet Camaro and Equinox and Cadillac CTS.
Simcoe's colleagues say he doesn't just focus on design as vehicles take shape. "Mike and I worked together closely on the Bolt EV," said Stuart Norris, managing director of GM Korea Design. "He pushed not just for a neat styling exercise, but he understood the significance of the product for the Chevrolet brand as a beacon of technology, design and performance."
At 58, Simcoe is one of the oldest men ever tapped to lead GM design. Chuck Jordan was a few weeks shy of 59 when he took over GM design in 1986. Simcoe will have just seven years before he reaches GM mandatory retirement age. Welburn was 52 when he took over the top job.
The first vehicles to bear Simcoe's influence will likely be concept cars shown late this year at the Los Angeles Auto Show and at the giant Specialty Equipment Market Association show in Las Vegas. The first regular production vehicles of the Simcoe era are at least 27 months away, based on product development times.
Simcoe inherits a design organization that ranks as the industry's largest, with 10 studios in seven countries and more than 2,500 people on the design staff. Under Welburn's tenure, the studios all adopted uniform work processes, programs and tools and work cohesively.