Name: Therese Tant
Job: Manager, GM Advanced Design Interiors
Location: Royal Oak, MI
Notable Quote: "Now is the time to go for it. Women have more options and opportunities than ever before."
Today, 40 percent of car-buying decisions are made by women - a purchasing power that also opens doors for female designers and engineers who have the know-how to make what women want: stylish, eco-friendly rides. Though cars are still thought of as a man's domain, the percentage of car-talkin' women continues to soar. For Therese Tant, coming up in a family of Motor City gearheads taught her about what's under the hood, but she ultimately uses her love of Christian Lacroix to make you a better Chevy.
Q: How did you get interested in cars?
A: I'm from the Detroit area, so it's no surprise I grew up in a car-obsessed family. My dad worked at Ford, and my two older brothers were always in the garage with him under the hood. My passion was art. I'd stand off to the side observing, but I'd ask a lot of questions. When I went to college for art, I took a course in automotive design and fell in love.
Q: What's your job like, day-to-day?
A: I design the interiors for both production cars - the ones you'll be driving, and show cars - the high-concept ones. I want the car to look modern and stylish, but I also want it to come down the assembly line, to be feasible for a real customer.
Q: What have you been working on?
A: The Chevy Volt, an electric car. It has the ability to run purely on sustainable energy created by wind turbines, solar photovoltaic cells, methane, and the like. Hybrids still need petroleum or ethanol to feed their internal combustion engines, but electric cars don't. What we're after is sustainability - meeting today's needs without compromising the health or resources of future generations.
Q: When can we get one?
A:I don't even drive one. No production date has been set - we're still perfecting the battery technology.
Q: What's it like to work in a traditionally male field?
A: So far in my career, being a woman is a bonus because I've got this other perspective to bring to the table. I was scared before getting into the field, but I was also inspired by Anne Asensio, a designer and former executive director at GM. I hope I'm doing my part to pave the way for other women.
Q: Where do you get your inspiration?
A: I follow trends in furniture, fashion, and electronics. When I go to the bookstore, I come out with a stack that's equally divided between car magazines and fashion magazines. I sew or modify a lot of my own clothes. I'm fascinated by texture and color, especially in fabric. Issey Miyake and Christian Lacroix inspire me - their clothes stir the emotions! Flamboyant, alive, bold, poetic, highly influenced by contemporary art - that's how I want to design. I also admire the quick pace at which fashion trends change - it's a contrast to how long it takes to move a car from design to production.
Q: Do those worlds ever overlap?
A: All the time. If you look at the details on the Volt, you'll see the influence of fashion. The interior trim panels are created from reconstituted leather. There's an exposed edge, like it's been sliced off, which shows the stitching. In the corners, we used architectural stitching as anchors. That look comes from handbags and shoes, where the corners of a handbag are stitched almost like a triangle to anchor the piece. That style definitely came from my closet.
Q: Where else do you get ideas?
A: I'm in a Poi performance group. Poi is a traditional New Zealand dance where you swing fire. I like exposing myself to as many different things as I can because it recharges my creativity. I don't want to miss anything that could be the next great idea.