Some men in Simcoe's position -- he took over July 1 for the retired Ed Welburn as General Motors head of design -- attend classic car shows as a judge or simply because they love classic automobiles. They need to keep an eye out for interesting shapes, styles and materials that might be worth revisiting.
But Simcoe, 58, had another reason for being there: "I love mechanisms. That's the fascination behind motorbikes. I love the functional content of the car, the motor, the transmission. That's just as fascinating to me as the character and proportion of the vehicle."
A colleague says: "He's an engineer in a designer's body."
GM historian Greg Wallace says Simcoe is likely the most technically oriented design chief the company has ever had. While some of Simcoe's six predecessors certainly had an appreciation for engineering, Wallace says, few if any rolled up their sleeves and got grease under their fingernails.
Simcoe's enthusiasm for the technical aspects of automobiles -- he has rebuilt engines and understands body engineering -- is a key reason GM product development chief Mark Reuss and CEO Mary Barra selected him as Welburn's successor.
In fact, Simcoe may be the industry's prototype design chief at a time when technology is transforming the automobile and the way it is manufactured. New lightweight materials, self-driving technology and advanced electrified propulsion systems are already disrupting the design and product development process.
"You might be leading design or engineering because you are an outstanding leader and you can get the best out of people," Reuss says. "That's important. But it is really unique to be really a good designer and be able to productionize a car design. That is a whole different thing than being a great sketch artist or a concept car designer. That's a rare deal. And he'll be able to do that really well. He's one of the best I've ever seen."
Two important products, the next-generation full-size pickups and GM's new global emerging market small car, will test Simcoe in the immediate future.
The new trucks, started under Welburn and due around late 2018, are not yet fully baked and might see some changes under Simcoe.
The new design chief won't say much about them, except to offer one important clue.
"They're incredibly efficient," he says.
That likely means the new trucks will have a combination of three things: lower weight, good aerodynamics and a fuel-efficient powertrain.
The new pickups will use GM's mixed material manufacturing system now in use on the Cadillac CT6, a system that entails welding, riveting and bonding and aluminum, steel, cast parts and extrusions. It enables a vehicle body to have "the right metal in the right amount in the right places," says Charlie Klein, executive director of global CO2 strategy and energy center engineering.
Simcoe's engineering expertise could help reduce development time for vehicles built in that fashion.
"We don't specifically have a job in design for lightweighting the structures of vehicles," he says. But, Simcoe says, the design staff does have a role to play in keeping weight off vehicles. He says designers need to reduce clutter by not adding unneeded parts.
The $5 billion project for emerging markets kicked off just over a year ago. It will spawn a family of technology-rich small cars to be sold in China, Brazil, India, Mexico and other markets. The project, Reuss says, is another reason the company feels Simcoe is the right man to lead design.
"Mike has an incredible depth of experience in different markets around the world," he says. "He's actually been a designer in lots of different places and different markets. And that's really important because our portfolio is big. His knowledge of [global] markets is fresh and deep."
A 33-year GM design veteran, Simcoe has global experience that includes leading GM's Korean styling operations, which is responsible for the vehicles for Asia-Pacific, and stints in Detroit. Simcoe's work is well-known in the U.S. The reborn Camaro, the Pontiac GTO and G8, the Chevrolet SS and the first-generation Cadillac CTS all bear Simcoe's stamp.
Simcoe sees part of his role as continuing the work of Welburn, who helped build a global design organization that operates 10 studios in seven countries and employs around 2,500 people on the design staff.
"I have a role to take design to the next stage," Simcoe says. "As we introduce autonomous vehicles and we get into electrification in a big way, that's going to change the architectural and proportional value of the cars. ... And that's a new opportunity for design."
Car design may be changing as new technologies are adopted, but Simcoe says he won't be spending much time on the boards.
"I would be embarrassed to do drawings and hand them to the studio because of the caliber of people we've got," he says. "In my quiet moments I sketch for myself, maybe to think about an idea or for some character of the brands, for instance. I wouldn't go in and put my stamp on a process like that. Because of the position I am in, if I were to walk into a studio with a sketch, people would take that as the voice of God and then do it. I am not about anything more overall than influence; I want to enable people."
Simcoe also wants his designers to have a strong grasp of the technical side of designing for manufacturing so that GM can produce higher quality vehicles and do it more quickly. "The technical as well as the style is important," he says. "Designers need to have that, and we'll encourage it," he says.
Simcoe probably has two or three product cycles during which to leave his mark on the company. But he says leaving a legacy is not his focus or a priority.
"I am thinking about the next 12 months and two years in the business," he says. "I am here to make sure I enable the team we've got -- which is an incredibly creative team -- to be able to do their business not just here but all around the world."