Tom Peters: Inspiration for Today's Great Cars

Tom Peters has lived all around the U.S., but his heart and his talent have always been leading him to the Motor City.

Born in New Mexico, raised in Minneapolis, graduated from high school in Louisiana, Tom was part of the muscle car and hot rod car culture of the 1960s. In junior high school he drew pictures of psychedelic cars and sold them to classmates for 25 cents. He says he had no idea “what industrial design was or how cars get designed,” but in 1976 he moved to the west coast where he graduated from the Art Center College of Design in 1980 with a focus on Transportation Design. Out of college he came to work for General Motors.

Shortly afterward he left for a job in the consumer electronics industry, but a couple of years later his heart led him back to where he could once again sketch cars that made people want to dig into their pockets and pay him for the privilege of owning them. He returned to GM Design and pursued his automotive passion. About his job Tom says, “I can’t imagine a more fantastic opportunity.” He got to work on concept vehicles and production Camaros and Corvettes.

Chevrolet Camaro Wins World Car Design of the Year Award at the 2010 New York International Auto Show

Chevrolet Camaro Wins World Car Design of the Year Award at the 2010 New York International Auto Show

In 1992 he went back to California as Director of GM’s Advanced Concept Center, working on designs for everything from full size trucks to alternative drive vehicles. But, by the middle of the decade he was back in Detroit, ultimately becoming the Vehicle Chief Designer for the XLR Cadillac Roadster and the C6 Corvette.

What keeps him going after 30 years as a professional and a lifetime as a fan of car design? Tom says, “What gets you through good times and bad is that passionate love for this product.”

Tom says, the 1969 Camaro “has always been a favorite of mine, ever since I was a kid. It’s why I’m in this business.” His restored 1969 Camaro looks like the limited-edition original “COPO” (Central Office Purchasing Order) Camaro, but he takes advantage of 21st century technology to make it turn and handle much better than the original. (See the video for much more on that car.)

Tom Peters admits following his dream hasn’t always been easy, but he’s never doubted what he does. “You talk about the economic times and the challenges that the industry faces. What a makes us get through it all and keep on going and persevering and being tenacious about it is that passion. You always draw upon that.” And he credits the GM Design team for coming up with consistently strong products and driving one another to be all they can be. “The tenacity of the program teams and the design staff is amazing to me. I think that builds upon itself. People draw upon that for strength.”

From the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes. From junior high doodler to the Director of Exterior Design and Global Rear Wheel Drive Vehicles for GM. Tom Peters is constantly moving, but always heading toward that goal of making people feel the emotions that a well-designed vehicle delivers.

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