More stories related to New York Auto Show FARMINGTON HILLS, MI – Nissan North America Inc. opens a new $14 million design studio here, Nissan Design America-Farmington Hills.

The studio is the second NDA facility in the U.S. The first, located in San Diego, currently is undergoing its own expansion.

NDA-Farmington Hills is situated here on the grounds of Nissan’s technical center, which opened in 1989.

The new 50,912-sq.-ft. (4,730-sq.-m) modern studio, which features large expansive areas with diverse materials such as bleached white oak from Michigan, California redwood, recycled rubber and aluminum (from tires and auto bodies), and stainless steel, triples the amount of space previously available to Nissan designers here.

The “egg” outdoor viewing area in Farmington Hills.

A 15,000-sq.-ft. (1,394-sq.-m) “egg,” an outdoor area with two turntables, allows designers to view vehicles in natural sunlight. Its oval shape was created by using cantilevered walls wrapped in stainless-steel mesh.

An 8- by 20-ft. (2.4- by 6.1-m) “power wall” viewing screen off the studio’s loggia, or corridor, allows for Nissan designers worldwide to simultaneously analyze and manipulate large-scale computer-generated designs with the staff here.

NDA-Farmington Hills features the longest clay modeling bedplate in the automotive industry. The ceiling above the bedplate is made of an artificial white high-tech fabric called Barrisol, which was heated, stretched and fitted to a grid of box frames that encase 585 color-corrected fluorescent tubes.

A Zimmerman mill, off the main area, is fully automated and can translate design into a full-scale clay model.

Movable walls are located throughout the facility.

Initially there were only 12 designers in Farmington Hills focusing on final production design, but NDA now houses 30 fulltime employees, including designers, clay modelers, digital designers and administrative support, and it has the space to increase that to 45 people.

“We’re very patient,” Bruce Campbell, NDA vice president-design, says of filling the remaining slots. “We always hire simply the top of the class. We have no intention to rush to fill 15 positions. We have the need of course; we could always use more people. But we want to make sure we hire the best people.”

Campbell says “very few” of NDA’s designers are from the Detroit area, as Nissan wants people from a variety of U.S. and global locales.

Nissan’s Sport Concept is aimed at Gen Y.

Unveiled at the facility’s grand opening is the Sport Concept, designed in Japan. It comes just a couple months after NDA-Farmington Hills’ concept, the AZEAL, was shown at the Detroit auto show. (See related story: Nissan Tries to Attract Entry-Level Buyer with AZEAL Concept)

In the same vein as the AZEAL, the Sport Concept also is designed for the Generation Y, entry-level buyer. It will make its public debut next week at the New York International Auto Show.

A 3-door hatchback, the vehicle seats four and “offers the look and feel of a sports tuner car, yet is conceived as an affordable, attainable vehicle for buyers entering the new-car market for the first time,” says Nissan.

Styling features of the concept include an athletic roofline with large rear spoiler, a large front bumper air intake with large wings, projector-style headlights and rear combination lamps with multi-layered reflectors and 20-in. aluminum-alloy 6-spoke wheels. The vehicle’s exterior also boasts extensive use of carbon-fiber composite parts.

The interior has 2+2 seating with body-wrapping front seats that employ built-in 4-point seatbelts. It also boasts Wolf Gray leather seating with double-layered pearl suede inserts, an emergency brake lever integrated into the console lid, sport-throw shifter, leather-wrapped 3-spoke steering wheel and individual rear seats with the same features as the front seats.

Campbell bristles at recent Nissan concepts being compared with Toyota Motor Corp.’s Scion models, despite similar styling cues and pricing that would fall into the $15,000-$20,000 range.

“I think in each case these are attempts to tap into that mindset (of the younger buyer),” he says. “From my eye they’re fundamentally different (from Scion). We know what’s going on in the marketplace, but there’s no attempt to be a tC fighter, a Scion fighter. We want to do the best Nissan product. It’s got to say Nissan.”

Campbell and other Nissan officials won’t say whether the concepts, or certain features of the concepts, will make it to production, but Nissan has announced plans to bring a sub-Sentra model to the U.S. market in 2007. Nissan has said the model will be based on its B-platform, which supports global models such as the March, Micra and Cube.

cschweinsberg@primediabusiness.com