The Australian designer who helped shaped Holden in its hey-day has been promoted from the head of design to become a senior vice-president at General Motors head office in Detroit.
Former Holden design boss Mike Simcoe, who helped shape the car brand though one of its most successful periods in its history – including the creation of the born-again Monaro coupe and Commodore VT – has been elevated to the top management team at General Motors in Detroit.
Mr Simcoe’s promotion to senior vice-president of Global Design means he is only out-ranked by CEO Mary Barra and company president, American former head of Holden, Mark Reuss.
It is the culmination of a 39-year career inside General Motors for Mr Simcoe, who joined Holden in 1983 and served two terms as a junior designer in Detroit before being head-hunted by Mark Reuss – who is still his direct boss – to head global design for all GM brands.
Mr Simcoe is only the seventh person to hold the top design job at General Motors and his success puts him in an elite group of Australians – Jac Nasser, who became global president of Ford, and the late Geoff Polites, who was CEO of Jaguar and Ford of Europe – who have starred on the world automotive stage.
“Under Michael’s leadership the GM design team has delivered winning design after winning design, demonstrating the ability to connect with customers in all vehicle segments, for both internal combustion engine vehicles and electric vehicles,” Mr Reuss said in a media statement.
In an interview with Drive, Mr Simcoe said the new role was a reflection of the design talent that has been built-up inside General Motors.
“To me, it’s more the reinforcement of the recognition of design to GM as we move faster and faster through a changing industry,” Simcoe told Drive, speaking from GM’s advanced design studio in North Hollywood in the US.
“Design has a large role to help shepherd the brands. We are creating a new portfolio of products as we move into the (electric vehicle) space.
“I happen to have a hugely creative group of people in design, who are charged with that. I’m there to enable it.”
As the 65-year-old prepares for his annual summer holidays in Melbourne, Mr Simcoe told Drive he is not yet planning to retire and is facing one of the busiest periods in his career.
“Essentially replacing the whole portfolio means a huge amount of work, and a huge opportunity. You are disrupting the whole business,” Mr Simcoe said.
“Changing so much so quickly means the impact you can have is being felt over a shorter time. It’s more impactful and more powerful.”
Among the cars created under his design leadership was the first mid-engined Chevrolet Corvette, a project that included the use of a Frankenstein-style Commodore ute – nicknamed Blackjack – as one of the engineering prototypes.
Mr Simcoe said car design had now moved well past creating an attractive body with a good-looking interior.
“The brands are not just physical any more. They are experienced emotionally,” he said.
“It’s the emotional connection, it’s the connection to a customer.”
Mr Simcoe says he still sketches cars and his promotion will not necessarily tie him to a desk in Detroit.
“I still sketch occasionally, mostly for my own entertainment. I still spend quite a bit of time in the studios,” he said.
“It won’t take me away from the studios. The role and the level is more a reflection of the whole capability of the team of creatives I lead.”