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  • Writer's pictureTim Jackson

Nissan – Early Japanese Automotive Powerhouse

Updated: Oct 28, 2023

The Nissan Motor Corporation is one of the most well-known and well-respected car manufacturers in the world. The company is based in Japan, has a long and storied history that dates back to its founding in 1933. From its humble beginnings, the Datsun Motor Corporation, Nissan has grown up to be a global powerhouse with a wide range of successful vehicles and a reputation for innovation and quality.

The early history of Nissan is tied closely to the history of the Japanese automotive industry overall. In the 1920s and 1930s, Japan was rapidly industrializing and modernizing. Japan’s leaders saw the development of a domestic automobile industry as a key and integral component of this process. In 1931, the Japanese government announced a plan to create a people’s car that would be affordable and accessible to ordinary Japanese citizens, regardless of income levels.

In response to this initiative, a group of investors led by Yoshisuke Aikawa founded the Jidosha Seizo Co Ltd in 1933. The company name translates to Automobile Manufacturing Company in English, yet it is better known by its abbreviated name Nissan. Aikawa had previously founded the Tobata Casting Company which supplied parts to the fledgling Japanese auto industry. He saw an opportunity to expand his business by entering the car manufacturing market directly.

Nissan’s first car, the Datsun Type 12, was introduced in 1935. It was a small affordable car designed to appeal to the mass market in Japan. It was powered by a 747 cubic centimeter engine that produced just 15 horsepower, but was reliable and fuel efficient, which made it popular with Japanese consumers.

Despite its early success, Nissan faced a number of challenges in the years leading up to World War II. The company struggled to compete with larger and more established Japanese automakers such as Toyota and Mitsubishi. It was further hampered by the economic disruptions caused by the war. Nevertheless, Nissan managed to survive the war and emerge as a major player in the postwar Japanese economy.

In the weeks following the war, Nissan underwent a period of rapid growth and expansion. The company began producing trucks and buses in addition to passenger cars and expanded its operations to other parts of Asia and to Europe. In 1958, Nissan established a joint venture with the British carmaker Austin to produce cars in the UK, and in 1960 established a joint venture with the French automaker, Renault, to produce cars in France.

Not only are Nissans the first mass-produced Japanese vehicles, their unique automotive style made a major impact on the US market when Nissan (then still Datsun) sedans and compact pickups were first imported in 1958. That was also the year Nissan franchised its first US dealerships.

One of Nissan’s most successful products during this period was the Datsun 510, introduced in 1967. The Datsun 510 was a compact sedan designed to compete with popular models such as the Volkswagen Beetle and the Toyota Corolla. It was powered by 1.6 L engine that produced 96 horsepower and it was known for its responsive handling and excellent fuel economy. The Datsun 510 was a hit with drivers in both the US and Japan and attempted to establish Nissan as a serious contender in the global automotive market.

During the 1970s and 1980s, Nissan continued to expand its product line and its global reach. The company introduced a number of innovative models including the Datsun 240 Z, which proved very popular. The Z-cars were designed to appeal to drivers who wanted a high-performance sports car at an affordable price.

Nissan was one of the very first automakers to manufacture and market practical and popular electric vehicles, when it rolled out its now famous Nissan Leaf in 2011. I was present at Empire Lakewood Nissan, March 22, 2011, when the first Nissan Leaf was delivered in Colorado. In 2022, Nissan distributed its first all-electric SUV, the Ariya. Due to the general popularity of SUVs, the Ariya is expected to become extremely popular, driving increased sales.


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