It was at VW's Audi design studio in California in the early 1990s that he and J Mays, now design chief at Ford Motor Co., developed Concept One -- the forerunner of the New Beetle -- behind the backs of VW division designers.
Concept One was a hit at the Detroit auto show in 1994. During a subsequent six-month stint in Germany, Mays spotted a sketch of a roadster version of the TT on Thomas's desk, and again a car -- this time a coupe -- was developed quietly on the side to rave reviews at the 1995 Frankfurt auto show.
That kind of risk-taking excites Thomas and he promises DaimlerChrysler's U.S. design staff of 300, who develop theChrysler, Plymouth, Jeep and Dodge brands of the German-U.S. automaker, that he will maintain a tradition of innovation. The Michigan and California teams created the minivan in 1983, the Plymouth Prowler roadster and the popular Jeep Grand Cherokee sport utility vehicle.
``When I look at that Prowler, I say what other company would take that risk?,'' he said. ``We're going to continue to pioneer new vehicle segments. We're not going to take baby steps.''