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Clay Dean is a self described “sneaker head” whose Hummer H3T design concept in 2004 was fitted with tires that had tread patterns inspired by Nike shoes. In fact, this longtime General Motors stylist can find inspiration almost anywhere from redwood forests to World War II fighter planes.

Dean is versatile, too. Encouraged by GM design Vice President Ed Welburn, the California native stepped out of his familiar role as a truck designer to tackle the exterior of the new Chevrolet Malibu, one of the hits at this year’s Detroit auto show.

Big break: A GM design executive saw Dean’s portfolio at a Specialty Equipment Market Association show while he was a student at Brigham Young University. After graduation, Dean joined GM in 1988.

What was the first car you owned?

A 1953 F 100 Ford pickup truck with a 427 engine. I was in 10th grade and worked on it every weekend. It was a lot of fun. It was very fast and very exciting, lowered on the ground. It was a great first hot rod.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Vacations with my family. Because we’re from California, all our family is out West. We go on monthlong vacations. We drive, go across the country and see things.

What music are you listening to?

I’m from California, but people call me a hick because I’ve got a lot of country music. But at the same time I can listen to Corinne Bailey Rae, Norah Jones,
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Alexi Murdoch a lot of easy listening stuff. Johnny Cash. It’s a weird, eclectic blend of everything. It depends on my mood. I listen to XM radio a lot because if it ain’t there, it hasn’t been created.

What talent do you wish you had?

I wish I could play music: piano or guitar, whatever else. That, or speak foreign languages.

Aside from other cars and trucks, what inspires your designs?

Just about everything. I love sports. I love the athletic world and the equipment that’s in it. I’m kind of a sneaker head. I love shoes. There’s neat design in those things. I love bikes, motorcycles, old planes and current technology. I think any designer (has) to be aware of everything around them, from computers to redwood forests to a beautifully manicured lawn to progressive architecture.

If you were not an automotive designer, what would you be?

I can’t imagine my life not being in design.

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