General Motors design vice-president Wayne Cherry will retire on January 1, ending a 42-year career with the world’s largest car maker.

GM chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner announced Cherry’s retirement on Friday and the appointment of Ed Welburn as the company’s sixth design chief in its 95-year history.

Welburn is also the first black to head a design house at a Big Three car maker, GM reportedly said.

Currently executive director in charge of body-on-frame architectures for GM Design, Welburn will become vice president of design, North America, on October 1 and fully assume Cherry’s responsibilities which, in addition to day-to-day management of GM Design, include membership on the GM North America Strategy Board and oversight of GM’s Global Design Council. Until his retirement, Cherry will assist Welburn in the transition.

Cherry, 66, began his career in GM’s advanced design studios in 1962 after graduation from the Art Centre College of Design in Los Angeles. His first major role was on the team that designed the ground-breaking front wheel drive 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado and the first-generation Chevrolet Camaro.

Cherry spent much of his career in Europe, designing cars for GM’s European subsidiaries Vauxhall and Opel – such as the 1988-1995 Vectra – before returning to the United States in 1991. He became the fifth vice president of GM Design in 1992.

Welburn, 52, began his GM career in 1972 as an associate designer in the advanced design studios, and held various positions at Oldsmobile, Saturn and Opel. He designed the Oldsmobile Aerotech, which established two world records of more than 257 mph in 1987.

Upon his return from Europe in 1998, Welburn was named director of GM’s new Corporate Brand Centre, a state-of-the-art digital studio, where he was responsible for the development of innovative concept and production vehicles.

Welburn was named in 2001 to his current position, in which he is responsible for three body-on-frame studios that have overseen the design of trucks such as the Cadillac Escalade, Chevy SSR and Hummer H2.