From Datsun to Nissan to the United States
|Topics: Datsun, Nissan
April 30, 2009
The history of this company dates back to 1914, and began its story as Datsun. The first three letters of its name originate from the first letter of each founders family name: Kenjiro Den, Rokuro Aoyama, Meitaro Takeuchi. The company did not actually begin to use the Datsun name until sometime in 1925 when it was officially called the DAT Motorcar Company.
In the early days of its formation, the company produced more trucks than passenger cars. There was really no market for passenger until much later. Most of the vehicles it produced were supplied to the military.
DAT Motorcar Company was headquartered in Tokyo during its infancy but was later moved to Yokohama. It was just before this move that the first car to carry the name Datsun was built and marketed. The car was originally called Datson, meaning “son of DAT, the name was changed later to what we know today as Datsun. The reason the spelling was changed? Son can also mean “loss” in Japanese, not really a good name for a product in terms of selling points.
The name Nissan originated from the name of the holding company for DAT Motorcar Company, Nippon Sangyo or Nippon Industries. Nissan was the abbreviation used for the company on the Tokyo Stock Market.
Yoshisuke Aikawa was the first president of Nissan and was responsible for merging DAT Motors with Tobata Castings. Tobata operated an automobile parts division and this is what led to the establishment of Nissan Automobile Manufacturing Co. As mentioned early, automobiles were not readily available in Japan at the time and the demand for them was extremely low. The shareholders of the new formed Nissan recognized this and were less than excited to be involved with passenger automobile manufacturing. However, Aikawa was very forward thinking in his plans for his newly acquired company and fully believed that the demand for vehicles would change in the very near future. Aikawa had been to the United States years early and during that trip had visited Detroit, Michigan. What he saw their inspired him to pursue the passenger vehicle industry in Japan. He bought out his shareholders and Nissan Motors became 100% owned by Nippon Sangyo and Hitachi.
During the early forties when Japan was heavily engaged in World War 2, the company directed its efforts at building airplanes, trucks and engines for the military. Although the plant was captured by the Americans and Russians toward the end of the war, the plant escaped any major destruction. Once the war ended, Aikawa set his sights on his long held goal to produce passenger vehicles for use in mainstream Japan.
Aikawa had every intention of marketed his cars in America and to this end he hired American car designer William R. Gorham to help make this vision a reality. All the vehicle and engine designs came originally from America. Nissan had purchased a Graham License to purchase trucks under the Graham factory tooling designs.
Nissan was producing small cars for the Japanese market and saw an opportunity for expansion in the United States. U.S. automakers of the late sixties were producing fairly large and heavy automobiles. Nissan (which was market as Datsun at first in the U.S.) cars filled an unmet need in the U.S. one that provided small, lightweight vehicles at inexpensive prices. The cars moved slowly at first; however, that changed completely in the early seventies. The oil crisis of 1973 had consumers turning to the small very fuel-efficient cars in droves.
By the 1980’s Nissan had established a firm hold on part of the American market and built its first plant on U.S. soil in the early 80’s.
While there have been financial difficulties along the way, Nissan has established itself as one of the big 3 Japanese automakers with several plants located throughout the U.S.
Ronnie Tanner is a contributing writer at SW Engines. He writes about used Nissan engines and other departmental updates for the company.
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