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Even though Nissan did not export a car to the United States until 1958, by 1970 it had become one of the largest exporters in the world and today, its success continues as one of the top selling automakers around. Its long-running lines of dependable vehicles, refined and updated both over time and for new markets, have helped Nissan make footholds all across the world.
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Look no further than 1A Auto for your aftermarket, original equipment (OE) replacement, new and performance Nissan auto parts and get your car, truck, van or SUV the parts it needs today from Nissan lovers just like you! If you happen to be an enthusiastic Nissan owner, have a deep passion for Nissan vehicles, or just want to learn more about the automobile manufacturer, continue reading below for a detailed look at the brand's history and some of its past and present models.
Nissan Motor Co., Ltd., usually just shortened to Nissan, is a Japanese automobile manufacturer founded in 1933, though Nissan did not become the company name until 1934. It's origin traces back even further than that however, to the Kwaishinsha Motor Car Works, which produced the DAT car in 1914. Nissan formerly marketed vehicles under the "Datsun" brand name. In fact, from the time the Datsun brand and Nissan Motor Company came to be in the 1930's, up until the 1960's, Nissan didn't even use its own name on a vehicle other than a truck or bus. In addition, from the onset of its foreign expansion in the 1950's until the 1980's, the Datsun name was used on most Nissan vehicles that were exported to other markets as well, including the United States. In 1986, Nissan completed a phase out of the Datsun name worldwide in favor of the Nissan name, which is now known all over the globe.
Since 1999, Nissan has been part of a two-way alliance with the French automaker Renault S.A., which owns close to 45% of Nissan while Nissan owns 15% of Renault. Today, Nissan produces a wide range of vehicles which includes cars, trucks, SUVs, and crossovers, for markets all across the world. It also produces luxury car models under the Infiniti brand since 1989. Nissan also announced in 2013 that it was bringing back the Datsun brand for a line of low-budget vehicles targeted towards emerging markets.
The story of the Nissan Motor Company starts with the beginning of the Datsun name. Before Datsun became a brand, there was the DAT car, which was built in 1914 by a company called the Kwaishinsha Motor Car Works. This company was established in 1911 by Masujiro Hashimoto, an American trained engineer, and immediately set out on its mission to create an automobile for the Japanese market. The company produced its first car in 1914, the DAT, which was based on Hashimoto's own design. The car's name came to be by combining the initials of the surnames of the three men who had invested in the company: Kenjiro Den, Rokuro Aoyama and Meitaro Takeuchi. In 1918, the company, which had grown quite a bit by this time, was renamed to Kwaishinsha Motor Car Co., Ltd. It released another vehicle, the Model 41 DAT, the following year. It had also started to produce trucks around this time as well, in addition to its DAT passenger cars, geared towards the military market. This demand would lead to the company focusing predominantly on building trucks, as the demand for cars by consumers was extremely low at the time.
In 1919, an American engineer named William R. Gorham developed a three-wheeled vehicle which drew the attention of a businessman in Japan. A company called Jitsuyo Jidosha Co., Ltd. was then established with the purpose of manufacturing these three-wheeled vehicles, and future aspirations to expand. The mechanical equipment, parts, and materials used to build the vehicles were ordered and imported from the U.S. The following year, the company produced a four-wheeled version, and would also go on to produce light cars and trucks under the name of Lila. In 1925, Kwaishinsha Motor Car Co., Ltd. changed their name to DAT Jidosha & Co., Ltd. (also known as DAT Motor Car Co. or DAT Motors). In the 1920's, DAT was forced to consider merging with other automotive companies due to the low demand for their cars. In 1926, it merged with Jitsuyo Jidosha Co., Ltd., (also known as Jitsuyo Jidosha Seizo Co., Ltd. or Jitsuyo Motors) to form DAT Jidosha Seizo Co., Ltd. (also known as DAT Automobile Manufacturing Co., Ltd).
In 1928, another important event happened in the history of Nissan. Yoshisuke Aikawa, a Japanese born and educated man who also lived in the United States for a time where he developed casting skills, founded the holding company Nihon Sangyo Co., Ltd. (also known as Nippon Sangyo Co., Ltd. or Japan Industries). Aikawa had previously established another company, Tobata Casting Co., Ltd., in 1911 following his return to Japan, which will also play a big role in our origin story. The Nissan name would eventually originate from this company during the 1930's, as it was used as an abbreviation on the Tokyo stock market for the company. Nihon Sangyo was originally created as an offshoot of Kuhara Mining Co., Ltd. (which is present day JX Nippon Mining & Metals), which Aikawa had taken over as president of from his brother-in-law Fusanosuke Kuhara, after a reorganization of his assets due to the bankruptcy of the Kuhara zaibatsu (combine consisting of Japanese business conglomerates) following World War I. Nippon Mining Co., Ltd. was established a year later to take over mining, smelting and refinery operations of Nihon Sangyo Co., Ltd.
Nihon Sangyo would ultimately morph into the famous Nissan zaibatsu, which included foundries and auto parts businesses like Tobata Casting and Hitachi (which began in 1910 as an in-house venture of Fusanosuke Kuhara's mining company in Hitachi, Japan), and eventually grew to include an automobile manufacturing company of which it is now known for - the Nissan Motor Company (more on that later). By World War II, Nissan eventually grew to include a large number of member firms from various industries, some of which were the most technologically advanced in Japan at the time, and became the fourth-largest combine in Japan leading up to World War II. Following the war, the zaibatsu was dissolved in Japan, although not completely, and was reformed into Nichiyo-kai, otherwise known as the Nissan Group, which of course still exists today and owns the modern day Nissan Motor Company. In addition to its automotive manufacturing business, which it primarily became known for outside of Japan, the Group also got heavily involved in the real estate industry, which was its core business until the real estate crash of the early 1990's. Since then, the company has, for the most part, gotten out of the real estate industry and has focused on manufacturing and insurance.
Getting back to the Datsun name, in 1931, DAT Jidosha Seizo Co., Ltd. became affiliated with Tobata Casting Co., Ltd. (a Nissan company at this time), which by 1928 had begun casting car components and was supplying them to DAT Jidosha Seizo Co., Ltd., thus becoming a subsidiary under them albeit not a wholly owned one at this time. That same year, the company produced a new, smaller car with a 495cc engine which it called the "Datson," or the "Son of DAT" in English. The development of this car came about from a 1930 ministerial ordinance created by the Japanese government which allowed cars with engines up to 500 cc to be driven without a license. DAT had already been producing larger vehicles for Japanese consumers for years now, but this ordinance created a new market segment which DAT Jidosha Seizo Co., Ltd. felt it could cater to with this new car. The name of the car would be changed not long afterwards to "Datsun" because "son" also means "loss" or "disadvantage" in Japanese, and the sun is depicted in the Japanese flag and thus they wanted to honor it. Therefore, they decided to change the name to make it more appealing and the Datsun name was officially born.
During this time, Aikawa had been acquiring more shares in DAT Jidosha Seizo Co., Ltd. as he desired to mass produce domestic vehicles in his homeland. In 1933, he set up an automobile department within Tobata Casting in order to produce the Datsun, which he had the manufacturing rights to. In late 1933, Aikawa established Jidosha Seizo Co.,Ltd., a joint venture of Nihon Sangyo and Tobata Casting Company. The new company took over all the operations for manufacturing Datsuns from the automobile division of Tobata Casting Co., Ltd. from this point forward. The shareholders of the new company however were not all that enthusiastic about the automobile succeeding in Japan. As a result, Aikawa decided to buy out all of the Tobata Casting shareholders using capital from Nihon Sangyo. At this point, Nihon Sangyo Co., Ltd. assumed full control of the company and the corporate name was changed to Nissan Motor Co., Ltd. in 1934. This effectively ended both Jidosha Seizo Co.,Ltd. and Tobata Casting Co., Ltd., and was essentially the birth of the Nissan automobile manufacturing company as we know it today, with the Datsun brand being owned by Nissan.
Pre and Post World War II
In 1936, Nissan purchased design plans and plant facilities from U.S. based Graham-Paige Motors Corp. which greatly helped the company to be able to produce larger vehicles. Car production was restricted in 1937 after Japan went to war with China that year and as a result, by 1938, the main Nissan production plant in Yokohama, Japan focused primarily on building military trucks for the Imperial Japanese Army. During the war, Nissan also built engines for the army's planes and motor torpedo boats. In 1943, the production of cars and trucks was completely stopped. In 1944, the company name was temporarily changed to Nissan Heavy Industries, Ltd. When the Pacific War (which was the Pacific portion of World War II) ended, Nissan turned their attention to providing trucks for the Occupation Forces. This would last until car production was resumed in 1947. Following the war, Aikawa, Nissan's founder, was imprisoned as a war criminal. After he was released he was not allowed to return to any corporate or public office until 1951. By then, the Nissan zaibatsu was dissolved and was reformed into Nichiyo-kai (the Nissan Group,) which was a new form of business grouping called keiretsu that emerged in Japan following the collapse of the zaibatsu. The Nissan Motor Co., Ltd. name was also reestablished, replacing Nissan Heavy Industries, Ltd. Aikawa was never allowed back into Nissan, though he went on to do other things. He died in 1967.
In 1952, Nissan entered into a legal agreement with the Austin Motor Company, an English automobile manufacturer founded in 1905. In the early 1930's, Datsun had built some cars that were closely patterned on Austins of the time. The agreement called for Nissan to assemble 2,000 Austins from imported partially assembled sets - which Nissan would have to complete - and sell them in Japan under the Austin trademark. The agreement also called for Nissan to make all Austin parts locally within three years and build the cars completely by themselves, a goal which Nissan eventually was able to meet. Nissan would produce and market Austins until 1960, when the deal expired. The agreement also gave Nissan the rights to use Austin patents, which it used in developing engines for its Datsun line of cars. Nissan also leveraged the Austin patents to further develop their own modern engine designs, beyond those of Austin, the apex of which was the A series engine in 1966. Other completely new engines followed, including the infamous four-cylinder Nissan L engine in 1967, and a six-cylinder version in 1969.
During this period from 1934 until the 1960's, the Datsun brand name was used on all of the passenger cars produced in-house by Nissan; the name was also used on some truck models as well. The Nissan name during this time was used only on trucks and buses.
Foreign Expansion and Beyond
In the 1950's, Nissan decided to expand into other markets outside of Japan, feeling that their small Datsun branded cars would fill unmet needs in countries such as Australia and the United States. Nissan decided to use the Datsun brand name for its exports to the U.S. since at this time, it was a much more successful and recognized name than Nissan. Nissan also wanted to distance its name association by Americans with Japanese military manufacture, of which Nissan's involvement was substantial; the Datsun name on the other hand, had escaped the war with its name intact. The first Datsun branded vehicle sold in the U.S. was in 1958 and in 1960 the company formed a U.S. subsidiary, Nissan Motor Corporation U.S.A. From the outset of its expansion into foreign markets and continuing until the early to mid 1980's, the majority of vehicles manufactured and exported to other countries by Nissan were sold under the Datsun brand name. It wasn't until the 1960's that Nissan began to use its own name on a vehicle other than a truck or bus, domestic or foreign, when the company started to brand some of its high-end models as Nissans, such as the Nissan Cedric in 1960. The Cedric name would eventually be dropped however for most export markets for a time and sold under the Datsun name with various series numbers, until the Datsun name phase out in the 1980's. The Cedric nameplate itself was phased out by Nissan at the end of 2004, replaced by the Nissan Fuga in Japan, which is a full size luxury sedan still produced by Nissan today. The Nissan President also debuted in Japan in the 1960's, and it was a luxury sedan marketed initially to the Japanese market before eventually being exported to a few countries. It was produced until 2010 before being discontinued.
In 1959, the all new Datsun Bluebird 310 series debuted in Japan and was exported to other countries as well, a small number of which made it to the U.S. (simply called the Datsun 310). The Bluebird nameplate, which would become Nissan's most internationally known sedan, lasted in Japan all the way until 2001, at which point it ended production. In the 1980's, it became the Nissan Bluebird when the Datsun brand was phased out. Export versions were sold under various names in addition to the Datsun Bluebird, such as the Datsun 510, which was a series of the Datsun Bluebird and was produced until 1973, and the Datsun 810, which was an upscale version of the Bluebird produced from 1976 to 1979. Both the modern day Nissan Altima (which was a replacement for the Nissan Stanza which was retired after 1992) and Nissan Maxima, two of Nissan's most well known and successful models, are continuations of the Bluebird line. The first generation of Maximas, introduced in 1981, were initially built in Japan, but in 1983, Nissan established a manufacturing plant in Smyrna, Tennessee, where it began to build Maximas among other models. The Maxima was notable for being the first “talking car” sold in the U.S. It featured a mini phonograph system that could play recorded warning messages. In 1989, the Maxima became the second Japanese sedan sold in the U.S. as a mid-size. Because of the U.S. production facility it was manufactured to be slightly wider than width-allowances for cars in Japan. The Maxima would go on to be a highly popular model, being named Motor Trend’s Import Car of the Year in 1995, and making Car and Driver’s Top Ten List in 1990, 1995 and 1996. In 1982 the Maxima was joined by a compact car called the Sentra. At first it was exported from Japan as a rebadged export version of the domestic Nissan Sunny, but began to be manufactured at the Smyrna plant in 1985. The Sunny/Sentra was also exported to Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, and Canada, as well as parts of Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. The Sentra came into its own in 2000, when the style diverged greatly from the Sunny. The Sentra nameplate was not used in the Japanese market.
Also in 1959, the Datsun Sports roadster, which was called the Datsun Fairlady in Japan, a name which was a link to the popular Broadway play of the era, My Fair Lady, was released. The Fairlady was a roadster produced as an inexpensive alternative to European sports cars from companies like Triumph, Fiat and Alfa Romeo. The first model was the S211 and the subsequent generation, the SPL212, was released and was the first Datsun sports car imported to the United States. The Nissan Fairlady series was the predecessor of the famous Z sports car in the Fairlady line. The Nissan S30 was the first generation series of the Z car, which debuted in 1969 in Japan as the Fairlady Z (this nameplate continues in Japan). It was first exported to the United States in 1970 as the Datsun 240Z sports car which used a six-cylinder variation of the L series engine and featured an independent suspension, front disc brakes and rear drums. The 240Z also found its way to Africa where it was raced in, and won, the 1973 East African Safari Rally. The 240Z was not the only Nissan car being driven in that race, or the first. The Bluebird had been built in Pretoria, South Africa since 1969. It was raced in the Safari Rally in 1972 and 1973. During that time period Bluebirds were also being built in New Zealand. The Datsun 240Z was an immediate sensation and the coupe lifted Datsun - and Nissan - to world class status in the automobile market. The iconic car was named as number two on the list of Top Sports Cars of the 1970's by Sports Car International in 2004. Subsequent models were released in this first generation S30 series and other generations have followed in the Z car line since.
While Nissan had made big strides in the United States, it also made significant inroads in Europe. In 1962, Finland began importing foreign cars in greater numbers than ever before. The Bluebird, although not very fast, was sturdy, which made it well suited to the rough roads of Finland. It soon surpassed SAAB and Triumph in Finnish import numbers and became one of the first Japanese cars sold in Europe in any significant number. In 1964, the world's attention turned to the 1964 Summer Olympics, which was held in Tokyo. To try and capitalize on this, Nissan established a showroom on the second and third floors of the iconic San-ai building in Tokyo's famed Ginza district. At that time in Japan, Tokyo was the center of culture, and Ginzai was the center of culture in Tokyo. Later, Nissan advertising manager Takashi Tsueshita remembered that at that time “fashion, culture, and many other things all began their spread from Ginzai.” To attract visitors, Nissan started using beautiful female showroom attendants and held a competition to choose its five best "Miss Fairladys" which would show off the new model, the Datsun Fairlady 1500. The candidates for the Miss Fairlady positions were trained in etiquette and knowledge of the car to make them more effective spokeswomen for Nissan. The concept of the Nissan Miss Fairladys was modeled after the "Datsun Demonstrators" from the 1930's who used to introduce cars. Miss Fairladys are still chosen today and it is a very well respected position in Japanese culture.
In 1966, Datsun debuted the Datsun 1000 compact car, known as the Datsun Sunny in Japan. A second generation was released in 1970 and was called the Datsun 1200, and other series' followed. Following the phase out of the Datsun name, the nameplate became the Nissan Sunny which was produced until 2004. Later models of the Nissan Sunny were known as the Nissan Sentra, which is still in production today. In 1966, Nissan merged with the Prince Motor Company, another Japanese automobile manufacturer which was founded in 1952. This brought more upmarket luxury cars, including the Skyline and Gloria, into the company's product line. In fact, The Prince Motor Company used to provide the Skyline to the Japanese emperor and the imperial family. The Prince name was eventually abandoned not long thereafter, and successive Skylines and Glorias were sold under the Nissan name. In the early 1970's, the Nissan Cedric and Gloria essentially merged and became the same vehicle, with the Gloria turned into a sportier, more upscale version of the Cedric. Just like the Cedric, the Gloria continued in production until 2004. The Skyline nameplate on the other hand, continues till this day. The first Skyline model exported to the United States was in 2001, and it was sold under Nissan's Infiniti luxury brand, which launched in 1989, as the Infiniti G35; subsequent generations followed. The Skyline had been imported to other countries long before this however. For example, models of the C110 generation of the Skyline in the 1970's were exported to other countries as the Datsun 160K, Datsun 180K, and the Datsun 240K.
In 1968, the Nissan Laurel was released, which was sold in Japan until 2002 (also called the Datsun Laurel in markets until the phase out). Exports of the car ceased in the 1980's and a version was sold in the United States in the 1970's called the Datsun 200L. In 1973, The Datsun 710 car was released in the United States; it was called the Nissan Violet in Japan and was a smaller companion car to the Datsun Bluebird 610. In 1977, the previous generation Violet was expanded and was joined by two badge engineered versions, the Nissan Auster, and the Nissan Stanza. The cars were also called Datsuns until the name was phased out for Nissan in the 1980's; the Stanza/Auster/Violet nameplates themselves were phased out in 1992. The Stanza was replaced by the Nissan Altima in North America; the Stanza was replaced by the Nissan Bluebird in Japan.
In the 1970's, consumers worldwide began to prefer small economy cars due to the energy crisis of the time. This crisis triggered an increase in the demand for the export of small Japanese cars, especially from U.S. consumers, which had a reputation for their great fuel economy and quality. To meet the growing demand, Nissan built new factories in other parts of the world like Mexico and Australia, and a factory followed in the United States in the 1980's, which was the factory in Smyrna, Tennessee. One of those small compact cars was the Datsun 310, known in Japan as the Nissan Pulsar. This first generation Pulsar was produced until 1982, at which point the Datsun name phase out was already under way. The Pulsar continued in Japan until 2000.
It was the Datsun 720 pickup that was the reason for constructing the Smyrna factory, though. In response to high tariffs placed on imported chicken by France and Germany, the U.S. placed a high tariff on light trucks. Since this would lead to a cost increase for consumers, it would hurt Nissans sales of its pickup trucks. This would have included the 720, the descendant of the Datsun 220 pickup truck which had been one of the first vehicles the company imported to the U.S. So, Nissan decided it needed to manufacture its trucks in the U.S. The 720 was available as a regular cab or King Cab model in the U.S., along with a crew cab model elsewhere. An aftermarket conversion company began to produce covered utility body modifications of the 720 which Nissan adopted as a dealer option in 1984, which it called the Bushmaster. This would provide the inspiration for the Nissan Pathfinder SUV which debuted in 1985. Other well known Nissan models to appear in this era were the Nissan Silvia, the Nissan Leopard, and the Nissan Cherry, to name just a few.
The Datsun Name is Phased Out
In 1981, the decision was made by Nissan to stop using the brand name Datsun in other countries including the United States and instead use the Nissan company name, in order to strengthen it. The thought was that doing so would help Nissan with its pursuit of a global strategy much in the same way as Toyota and Honda, for example, which were household names in other parts of the world, while Nissan was not at the time. Eliminating the Datsun brand would simplify things as all vehicles would be branded as Nissan. Many in the automotive industry criticized the decision initially because the company was substituting a then unknown brand outside of Japan for one that was well respected.
The phase out of the name was not immediate, rather it lasted for a few years. In fact, until 1983, Nissan vehicles in most export markets were still sold under the Datsun brand. At that point, the Nissan name was added and given more prominence. In some export markets, cars carried both the Datsun and Nissan name on them through 1985. It wasn't until 1986 that the phase out was complete and the Datsun brand was completely dropped. The company's decision to drop the Datsun brand name was a very expensive undertaking as dealership signs had to be changed, advertisements were run to proclaim the change, etc. Even after all that, the Datsun brand remained more familiar than the Nissan name for years to come. That however, has of course changed.
Turning Nissan Into a Household Name
Starting in the mid 1990's, after the phase out of the Datsun brand was complete, Nissan set out on turning itself into a household name. Midway through 1986, the 720 was followed up by the Nissan D21 Hardbody pickup truck which also provided the platform for the Pathfinder. The Hardbody was largely an extension of the 720. It was still available in Standard and King Cab in the U.S. as well as Crew Cab in overseas markets. The Hardbody title referred to the double-wall bed, compared to the 720’s single-wall bed. The Hardbody pickup truck was noted for its durability and many are still on the road today. Although the model ceased to be produced in the U.S. after 1997, it continued in Mexico until 2008, and is still being manufactured in Venezuela and South Africa. The Hardbody was accompanied by an SUV with which it shared most components and a visual style, the Nissan Pathfinder. At first, the Pathfinder was only available in a two-door version, but by 1990 it shifted to a four-door body style. In 1996, it was completely redesigned to a rounder style built with unibody rather than body on frame construction. The Pathfinder has gone through two more redesigns since and continues to be sold. In 1998, the D21 Hardbody pickup truck was replaced by the Nissan Frontier pickup truck. In Asia, it is called the Nissan Navara. The first generation of the Frontier/Navara was the D22 series, which has since been followed by the D40 series. In 2002, Nissan decided to pull the plug on this model in Japan, as the primary market for the vehicle is North America.
1989 was another big year for Nissan as the company unveiled its Infiniti brand. Launched initially just in North America, Infiniti vehicles appeared in the United States for the first time in 1989 as a competitor to Toyota’s Lexus and Honda’s Acura premium brands. The Infiniti brand of cars was launched with the introduction of two models, the Q45 and the M30. A third model, the Infiniti J30, followed not long after and in 1997 its first entry into the SUV market segment, the QX4, was released. However, Infiniti vehicles were initially not well received. Sales were slow and by the mid 1990’s, the brand had fallen behind both Lexus and Acura. This trend continued and by the end of the decade, the floundering brand was without sales, an image, or a following. By the year 2000, Infiniti was facing extinction. Luckily, the company regrouped and began dedicating itself to building a new lineup of sport luxury vehicles, such as the G35 sports sedan and the FX35/45 crossover. Today, Infiniti continues to produce high performance luxury cars (coupe, sedan, and convertible), crossovers and SUVs. In 2013, the brand was introduced in its homeland Japan for the first time. Prior to this, Infiniti models had direct equivalents in the Nissan lineup that were sold in Japan.
In 1993, the Altima joined Nissan’s sedan lineup. Although it was another car in the Bluebird lineage, this one was slightly smaller than the Maxima, but larger than the Sentra. Exterior styling was done in Nissan’s California design studio and American models were built in Smyrna. Japanese models were sold as Bluebirds in Japan. By 2000, the Altima had become a North American only model. Today, it is exclusively manufactured in the United States but is also sold in other parts of North America, as well as South America, the Middle East, and Australia. At that time it was considered one of the best-handling family sedans. In 2002, it won the North American Car of the Year Award and in 2011, it was the second best-selling car in the United States. Also in 1993, Nissan entered into a partnership with Ford to market the Mercury Villager and the Nissan Quest. The two minivans were virtually identical aside from cosmetic differences during the period that the two companies partnered, which ended in 2002. The Quest was completely redesigned for the 2004 year and continues in production today. The 1990's were also breakout years for the Z sports car series. The Nissan 300ZX, released in 1990, won Motor Trend’s Car of the Year and was listed as one of its Top Ten Performance Cars. Road and Track named it one of the Ten Best Cars in the World. In the seven years the 300ZX was in production, it was on Car and Driver’s Ten Best list every year. The 300ZX was replaced by the Nissan 350Z in 2002 and in turn the Nissan 370Z in 2008. The 370Z features a new gearbox with “synchro-rev matching,” which automatically engages the throttle to simulate heel-toe shifting. The Z series has become so popular that since 1988 there has been a convention of Z series enthusiasts called ZCON in the United States every year.
In 1998, Nissan released the Cube in Japan. The Nissan Cube is a mini MPV and the first generation was based on the Nissan Micra (known as the March in Japan and Southeast Asia) platform. The Micra, which was first released in 1982, carried a small "Datsun" badge on the tailgate for the first two years of its existence even though Nissan was slowly phasing out the Datsun name. In some European markets, the car was known as the "Datsun-Nissan Micra". The Datsun badges however, disappeared completely by the end of 1984. Back to the Cube - it has been traditionally known as a very "cool" and safe vehicle and it is still produced today. It was released in the United States for the first time in 2009. In 1999, Nissan unveiled the Xterra in North America, which is a compact SUV. It won Motor Trend's Sport Utility of the Year award and its North American Truck of the Year award in 2000. It won Motor Trend's Sport Utility of the Year award again in 2006, and the model continues to be produced today.
While many American drivers were drawn to the sportiness of the Z series, others felt a need for something more practical. While the Hardbody compact pickup was suitable to many parts of the world and continued to be sold abroad in the 2000’s, Nissan saw room in the U.S. market for a full-size pickup. In 2004, it released the Nissan Titan to meet this need. The Titan was specifically designed for the North American market and manufactured in Canton, Mississippi. It was intended to compete with trucks from the Big Three Detroit automakers. The Titan proved popular due to its spacious interior and high towing capacity. In particular, it has sold well in the south central U.S., including Texas. In the year it was released, the Titan was nominated for North American Truck of the Year and was named best full-size truck by Edmunds. In 2007, the company released the Nissan Rogue in the United States, which is a compact crossover SUV. The Rogue joined the Nissan Murano, which was released in 2002 and was the first crossover SUV Nissan released in the United States. The Murano is a mid-sized SUV and is still in production today.
While the Titan proved popular with Texans, the Nissan Leaf proved popular with Californians (and Norwegians). With demand rising for electric vehicles, Nissan determined to build a practical electric hatchback. Where many other electric cars feature unusual designs, the Leaf was designed to draw on stylistic elements of Nissan’s already popular sedans. Although reports vary, the Leaf can run for about one hundred miles on a single charge. Nissan began producing the Leaf in Japan in 2010. Later that same year, the first leaf imported to the U.S. was delivered to California. According to a 2011 report, 60% of Leafs sold in the U.S. up to that point were purchased in California – primarily in Los Angeles and San Francisco. In 2011, Nissan started constructing the Leaf in Sunderland, England for the European market. In 2013, it began building Leafs in the U.S. at the Smyrna plant, which was upgraded for the electric vehicle using a loan from the U.S. Department of Energy. In the U.S., the Leaf was chosen as the winner of New York City’s Taxi of Tomorrow contest to form a pilot program to study the use of electric vehicles as taxis. The Leaf has also proved highly popular in Europe. In response to high gas prices and tax breaks for electric car owners many Norwegians have been turning to electric cars, for example. In September 2013, the best-selling car in Norway was the electric Tesla S. The following month it was displaced by the Leaf. In addition to popularity with eco-conscious, tech-savvy, or fuel-thrifty consumers, the Leaf has won wide critical acclaim as well. It won the 2010 Green Car Vision Award, the 2011 European Car of the Year and World Car of the Year, and the 2011-12 Car of the Year Japan awards. Also in 2010, Nissan released the Juke, which is a mini SUV, in the United States. The vehicle is still in production. In 2011, the company unveiled the Nissan NV, its first full-size van built for the United States. The NV uses the same F-Alpha platform as does the Nissan Titan full-size pickup, and is still in production today. By this point, Nissan had long succeeded in its quest to become a household name, and an automotive powerhouse.
In 1999, Nissan entered into a strategic alliance with Renault S.A., a French automobile manufacturer which was founded in 1899, due to the severe financial difficulties Nissan was facing at the time. Per terms of the agreement, Renault took an ownership stake of a little over a third in Nissan while Nissan vowed to buy into Renault when it was financially able to do so. This occurred in 2001 after Nissan was able to turn itself around from near bankruptcy, and it bought a 15% stake in Renault. The Alliance gave the Nissan Motor Company more independence from the Nissan Group, and its successful turnaround was attributed to the fact that the chairman and CEO of the Alliance, Carlos Ghosn, was able to detach the Nissan Motor Company from Nissan keiretsu connections and debt while eliminating thousands of jobs from the Japanese workforce. The turnaround of Nissan via Ghosn's "Nissan Revival Plan" (NRP), as it was dubbed, was considered a spectacular achievement considering how close to bankruptcy it was. It has catapulted Nissan to record profits and a dramatic revitalization of both its Nissan and Infiniti vehicle line. Today, Renault's stake in Nissan has increased to 43.4%, which is what it owns today. The Alliance itself was incorporated as the Renault-Nissan B.V., equally owned by Renault and Nissan, in 2002 under Dutch law.
It's important to note that the strategic partnership between Renault and Nissan is not a merger or an acquisition; the two companies are in an alliance together through a substantial cross-shareholding agreement. Each one of the companies acts in the financial interest of the other while maintaining unique brand identities and independent corporate cultures. The two companies collaborate, borrow, and share in order to strengthen the other company where appropriate, without forcing one company's identity on the other. The Alliance itself has broadened its scope as well, forming additional partnerships with automakers in other parts of the world, such as Germany's Daimler, China's Dongfeng Motor, and Russia's AvtoVAZ, and it has also invested in producing cars in other countries like India and Korea as well.
In 2013, Nissan announced that after decades of being inactive, the Datsun nameplate would be revived as the brand name for a line of budget vehicles it was planning to manufacture for emerging markets such as India and Russia. However, Nissan has vehemently stated that the Datsun name will not be finding its way onto any vehicles in the U.S. market. It's only fitting that we end our story of Nissan with the brand that really started it all for the company. Since then, Nissan has become one of the largest automakers in the world by making rapid moves into exporting and by always finding its niche in the local market. From the Datsun 210s and Bluebirds that were sturdy enough to survive Finnish roads and African terrain to Titans in Texas and Leafs in Norway, Nissan may hail from Japan but it’s at home all over the world.
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