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Thursday, 25 January, 2001, 17:18 GMT
From Datsun to Nissan
nissan
Some of Nissan's models through the ages
The car manufacturer we know as Nissan actually began life early this century as Datsun.

The name DAT (Japanese for 'hare') was taken from the initials of the three investors (Den Aoyama, and Takeuchi) who grouped together to start producing vehicles in 1914.

When a smaller sized DAT car appeared in 1931, it was initially called 'son of DAT'. This soon evolved into Datsun.

Nissan Motor Company proper was born in 1934 when a Japanese entrepreneur called Nihon Sangyo became the company's sole owner and changed the name to Nissan.

Bluebird and Fairlady

It was not until two decades later that the company moved to the US. In 1958, under the leadership of Yutaka Katayama, the first Datsun saloon car was brought to the US.

nissan sedan
The first Datsun model - a Type II from 1932

The brand went on display to great fanfare at the Los Angeles motor show of 1958.

But the models - a sedan called Bluebird and a sportscar called the Fairlady - did not at first appeal to US consumers and business was initially slow to get off the ground.

It is said that Yutaka Katayama personally trudged round the Japanese neighbourhoods in Southern California, knocking on doors to try to drum up sales.

But pick-up it did. In 1968, the Datsun 510 sedan was introduced - the first Nissan car styled for the American market.

Breaking into Europe

And by 1971, annual sales in the US had passed the quarter of a million mark.

Key milestones
1914 Dat vehicles produced
1934 Nissan Motor Company formed
1958 - exports to United States
1962 - exports to Europe
Dec 1985 - car plant completed at Sunderland
1999 - 3.3bn deal with Renault
Sep 1999 - millionth Micra produced
Jan 2001 - EC approves 40m grant
25 Jan - Sunderland lands contract

Exports of Nissan cars to Europe came in 1962, when more than 700 Bluebirds were exported to Finland.

Sales to the Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, Denmark and Switzerland swiftly followed, then shortly afterwards to the UK and France.

In 1983, the worldwide marketing of vehicles using the Nissan name began.

Then in March 1984, the UK government announced that Nissan was to build a new car plant at Sunderland in the northeast of England.

Sunderland

Work began on the site and by December 1985 the factory was completed, within schedule.

The first Nissan Bluebird rolled off the Sunderland production line two years later and by the spring of 1987, 29,000 Bluebirds were being produced a year.

In May 1990 came a new Nissan baby - the Primera - which replaced the Bluebird and the cars were exported to Eastern Europe and the Far East.

nissan bluebird
Nissan's 1959 Bluebird 310

Production of the Nissan Micra began in August 1992. By now the company had a workforce of more than 4,000.

Two years later, nearly 183,000 Primeras and Micras were being exported to 36 world markets.

Soon after the one millionth vehicle rolled off the production line. And the plant was named as the most productive in Europe, an accolade that it won several years running.

'Le Costcutter'

The next key milestone was the 3.3bn deal, in March 1999, between Renault and Nissan. The French company bought a 36% stake in the company.

Renault executive Carlos Ghosn - and now president of Nissan Motor Company - was a tough operator nicknamed "le Costcutter".

By April 2000, the company employed more than 5,000 workers at its Sunderland factory.

Nissan models
Type 15 - 1937
1200 Sedan - 1960
SPL 210 - 1960
Bluebird - 1962
Patrol - 1962
2000 Roadster - 1967
Primera - 1990
Micra - 1992

But by the summer of that year came the first warnings that the plant could be in difficulty because of the strength of sterling.

There was talk of moving production of the new Micra to the Renault plant in Flins, north of Paris, and the future of car-making at Sunderland hung in the balance.

The UK government, keen to keep the production of the new Micra in Britain, then stepped in, offering a 40m sweetener to help bail out Nissan.

Earlier this month, the grant was eventually approved by the European Commission, thus helping Sunderland land the contract.

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25 Jan 01 | Business
Sunderland wins Micra contract
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