Out now: the Autocade Yearbook 2024
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Out now: Autocade Yearbook 2024

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Nissan Motor was formally established after a series of mergers in 1934, though it can trace its roots to Kwaishinsha Motorcar Works, founded in 1911. The firm built a car called the DAT (an acronym for Den Aoyama Takeuchi, its three partners) in 1914, with a smaller car called the Datson—‘Son of DAT’—in 1931, which was renamed to Datsun as the word son had an inauspicious homonym in Japanese. The word Nissan is believed to be a contraction of Nippon Sangyo (roughly translated to Japan Industries) and used from the 1930s.

It is claimed that Nissan licensed the manufacture of the Austin Seven in the 1930s. It switched to war production fairly early as part of Japan’s World War II effort, which hurt its name’s goodwill in many foreign markets (forcing Datsun to be used as the marque instead). In 1952, Nissan entered into a new agreement to assemble Austin cars in Japan. By 1955, the Austin A50 design from Nissan was wholly built there. Some 20,855 Austins were sold between 1953 and 1959.

Nissan’s own passenger car designs appeared in the 1950s, including the Bluebird of 1957, beginning a long line of models. It believed its smaller Datsun lines of cars would do well against larger cars in countries like the US and Australia and began pushing its exports. In 1966 it merged with the Prince Motor Co., which produced larger cars, allowing the combined company to field a comprehensive range.

The Datsun name became more established in export markets during the 1960s. Nissan developed a sporting positioning which helped sell its cars, especially its Fairlady or Datsun 240Z model. With the fuel crisis of 1973, Nissan was well poised to take advantage of the switch to smaller cars, especially in the US market.

Plants in the US, México, Australia, Taiwan (with YLN), the UK and South Africa followed, though Nissan had to withdraw from Australia in the late 1980s. An alliance in India was signed in the 2000s.

In 1990, Nissan, following the lead of Honda in the mid-1980s, launched an upscale brand, Infiniti, in the US. With financial difficulties, Nissan signed an agreement with Renault SA in 1999, with Renault eventually increasing its stake in the company to 44·3 per cent and assuming control. The company was turned around by French-appointed Lebanese COO (later CEO) Carlos Ghosn, its first non-Japanese boss, known for his aggressive cost-cutting. Ghosn was recognized even by the Emperor of Japan with an award in 2004.

q.v. Datsun, Prince, Infiniti

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