NissanNew Cars > Nissan
Nissan is a direct descendant of Datsun, which was among the first Japanese-brand manufacturers to send subcompact cars to the United States. Perhaps best known for its "Z" sports cars, Nissan continues to offer a full product line, from the subcompact Versa, through the quirky cube and energizing GT-R sports car, all the way to the massive Armada SUV and Titan pickup.
Masujiro Hashimoto, an American-trained engineer, formed Kwaishinsha Motor Car Works in 1911 to build the first Japanese car, the DAT. Launched in 1914, DAT stood for the initials of the three principal investors. The term also meant, roughly, "very fast." By 1918, the company was making a small sports car called Datson (son of DAT).
Because "son" sounded like an expression meaning "disadvantage" or "to lose money," the name eventually switched to Datsun. In 1934, the original company became Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. Within two years, an assembly line was running at Yokohama, and cars were exported. Early models were Austin Sevens, built under license from the British firm. Type 15, introduced in 1937, was the first mass-produced Japanese vehicle. Some prewar Datsuns were thought to resemble scaled-down 1933 Fords, but none came to the U.S.
Even though the factory stood in ruins after World War II, it was hastily rebuilt by occupation forces in 1946, to make trucks. More Austin-licensed cars were assembled, too, starting in 1947. A Datsun Sport roadster arrived in 1952, with an 860-cc four-cylinder engine, rear-hinged doors, fold-down windshield, and separate headlights.
As occupation forces left Japan, Nissan was ready with a Datsun 110 sedan. Then came a wagon and a convertible. Cars of the Fifties looked rather crude, with exposed door hinges, split windshields, and side-mounted mechanical turn signals.
Finally, in 1958, Nissan began to export the tiny Datsun 210-series and Bluebird mini sedans to the U.S. Sales were slow until the arrival of Datsun sports cars, starting with the Fair Lady, then Sports 1500 and 1600 models. Introduction of the 240Z roadster for 1970 led to a long series of "Z" cars, dropped in 1996 but revived in the 21st century as the 350Z. Enthusiasts in the late 1960s and 1970s also took to the performance-oriented 510 sedans, designed with American tastes in mind.
Quarter-ton pickup trucks had been sold in the U.S. as early as 1959. In 1962, Nissan's first off-road utility vehicle, the Patriot, arrived on American shores. Spokesperson for the Patriot was Roy Rogers, the famed movie cowboy. King Cabs, the first extended-cab pickups, joined in 1977.
Marketing switched from the Datsun name to Nissan in 1981. By then, a manufacturing plant was underway in Tennessee. The first American-built Nissan trucks emerged in 1983, followed two years later by examples of the compact Sentra sedan.
Nissan launched the larger Maxima sedan for 1982, and the first-generation Pathfinder midsize SUV appeared later in the decade. Nissan's American-made Altima sedan debuted for 1993. So did the first-generation Quest minivan, as a joint venture with Ford. Small sporty coupes were part of the Nissan picture in the 1990s, called NX, 200SX, and 240SX. Nissan's Frontier compact pickup truck arrived for 1998, soon adding a Crew Cab edition with four full-sized doors.
Stepping high up the pickup-truck scale was the aptly-named Titan, introduced as a 2004 model. At the same time, a big Armada sport-utility vehicle joined the smaller Pathfinder and the Murano crossover, introduced a year earlier. In 2007, Nissan unveiled the world's first Around View Monitor as an option. During 2009, Nissan brought the appropriately-named little cube sedan to America, along with the sizzling GT-R sports car. Nissan's latest subcompact, the Versa, debuted for 2007.
Biggest news for 2010 was the arrival of the Nissan LEAF, a fully electric passenger car. SUVs don't ordinarily have convertible tops, but Nissan's Murano crossover may have one. Next up is the NV200 commercial van, arriving at American dealerships following sales success in Europe.