Those of us of a certain age will remember that the brand name Nissan was unheard of, and Datsun was synonymous with small Japanese cars. However, there is a substantial history to both companies.
Datsun itself was founded in 1911. Part of the name, DAT, comes from the company founders. Kenjiro Den, Rokuro Aoyama, and Meitaro Takeuchi. Mergers and minor name changes occurred, and in 1931, produced a car called Datson, son literally in the sense of meaning “son of DAT”. These were built at a time where cars with a certain engine size could be driven without the need for a license. However, as son may also mean “loss” in Japanese, it was changed to Datsun.
Nissan was founded in 1928, as a holding company named Nihon Sangyo, with the company governing manufacturers such as Hitachi and, crucially, Tobata Casting. The conglomerate was known as Zaibatsu.
Ni and San came from the Nihon Sangyo names and were quickly joined to become the name Nissan. Datsun itself had been merged with another company, Tobata Casting, in 1933. This gave rise to both brands expanding, with Nissan hitting the American market soon after.
It was 1934 that saw Yoshisuke Aikawa, the founder of Nihon Sangyo, created a separate automotive parts division of Tobata Casting. This was called the Nissan Motor Company Limited.
Prior to WW2, Datsun’s passenger car manufacturing was expanding well, however the Japanese-Chinese war saw Datsun manufacturing mainly trucks for the Japanese Army.
A need for cheap cars was seen after WW2 and both companies would soon be heavy hitters in this market. Cars such as the Patrol, the 240Z, and Bluebird came into being. Nissan entered the US market in the late 1950s and sold cars under the Datsun brand name. It’s about here that Nissan saw Australia as a potentially untapped small car market also.
The same was occurring in Europe and the U.K., with small cars such as the Sunny and Cherry gaining a strong market share. This came at the same time that British Leyland’s manufacturing woes saw their products not regarded as reputable.
It appears that the merge and rebranding of Datsun into Nissan was due to some internal politicking and a desire to have a “one brand” presence. It was in the first half of the 1980s that the rebranding was undertaken, with a rumoured cost of US$30 million at the time to change signs at dealerships whilst other associated costs such as manufacturing plant changes totaled over a half billion.
Datsun as a brand was resurrected in 2012 for low cost cars in just a few regional markets such as Indonesia and Russia.
What is your favourite Datsun? Let us know in the comment section below this article on Facebook.