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Designer SUVs? Nissan taps artist to lure youth 

A sport utility vehicle with a black-and-gray camouflage-style pattern of rhinoceroses, skulls and dice? It's just a concept  for now, but Nissan traditionally has had some of the youngest buyers in the industry and believes fashion designer and graffiti artist Marc Ecko's edgy, urban style will appeal to younger drivers.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A sport utility vehicle with a price tag near $200,000 and a black-and-gray camouflage-style pattern of rhinoceroses, skulls and dice?

It’s a concept that won’t hit the market anytime soon, but New York fashion designer and graffiti artist Marc Ecko’s customized versions of Nissan Motor Co.’s Pathfinder and Armada SUVs could be sold in the near future with a more toned-down look and cheaper price tag.

The two concept vehicles were displayed in Nashville on Friday and have been shown at auto events across the country since their debut in October in New York.

The Japanese automaker is following in the steps of such automakers as Ford Motor Co. and Subaru of America Inc., who have collaborated with apparel retailers like Eddie Bauer and L.L. Bean in customizing certain models.

Nissan traditionally has had some of the youngest buyers in the industry and believes the fashion designer’s edgy, urban style will appeal to younger drivers.

“We’re trying to show urban consumers that Nissan thinks outside the box, the idea that design can come from outside the car world too” said Terri Hines, a spokeswoman for Nissan, which moved its North American headquarters to Nashville this year.

Tom Libby, an automotive analyst with JD Power and Associates, said the average age of the Nissan buyer is 42, four years below the national average age over all brands. Nissan buyers are also younger than those of other major Japanese automakers Toyota and Honda.

“They’re (Nissan) trying to link their product with a brand that appeals to a niche or consumer they want to appeal to,” Libby said. “It (Ecko design) might appeal to the younger buyer. That’s certainly something Nissan does well with and wants to continue doing well with.”

The exterior of Ecko’s Pathfinder features custom black-and-gray paint that camouflages his signature rhino logo and skulls and dice meant to reflect ruggedness and the “gambles people take in life. The skull is today’s happy face,” Ecko said.

The interior of the vehicle includes an encased subwoofer, black leather seats and an orange center console and accent molding.

The Armada’s exterior has a cream roof, custom wheels, whitewall tires and orange side panels. The interior is cream-and-tan calfskin with contrast stitching on the steering wheel, door panels and dashboard, and has an encased subwoofer and wireless communications system.

In addition to the two custom vehicles, Ecko also has created limited edition, co-branded hooded jackets, T-shirts and other items that will be given away at events and sold online.

Ecko, 34, said he believes designers have been “too timid” when collaborating with carmakers and haven’t left enough of an imprint on vehicles.

Several automakers have approached him about modifying their vehicles, but he decided to work with Nissan because the company gave him the most creative freedom.

“I think our brand embodies a youthful energy, excitement,” Ecko said. “We’re emblematic of what’s going on in popular culture. It was a good tidy fit (with Nissan) for sure.

“If these were ever to be brought to consumers, obviously we’d have to make some adaptations to make it more production-assembly friendly.”

A fashion designer who began his career as a graffiti artist in New York, Ecko’s company includes 12 apparel and accessories lines, and his recently launched video game, “Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure.”

In April, the company caused a stir by releasing a realistic Web video showing a pair of graffiti artists appearing to sneak onto a military base and spray-paint “Still Free” on an engine of Air Force One.

The video spread quickly on the Internet before Ecko announced that the stunt was produced at a California airport with a rented plane painted to look like the president’s aircraft.

Last year the company reported billings of over $1.2 billion.