The Nissan Motor Company was started in 1928 by Yoshisuke Aikawa. The name was an abbreviation of the company’s original, longer name, Nippon Sangyo. In 1930, Aikawa took a controlling interest in DAT Motors and when, in 1931, they produced their first small car, it was called the son of DAT, or the Datsun. However, ‘son’ in Japanese means ‘loss’, so they altered the spelling to ‘sun.’
Not long after Aikawa started, in 1937, Nissan Aikawa begin exporting the Datsun Model 70 Phaeton here. They also started looking at the manufacturing technology in use in America and obtained a licence from UK car producer Austin to build a version of its Austin 7. This arrangement continued after the war, and by 1959, Nissan had produced over 20,000 Austin A50s in Japan.
By the 1960s, their quality production methods and economical fuel consumption made them a rapid success. Sir Lawrence Hartnet, impressed with the Datsun 1200 in 1966, obtained the rights to manufacture the cars here and opened the first Nissan plant in Sydney. Nissan Bluebirds were assembled at the plant from parts brought in from Japan, giving Australians the chance to purchase a home-built Nissan.
In 1972, a second Nissan plant was built in Clayton, Victoria where they built 4-cylinder engines and assembled cars. By 1977, Nissan opened their third plant, which was also their Australian headquarters in Dandenong, Victoria. During the 1980s, the company entered the sports car market and saw the assembly of such speedsters as the Gazelle, Eza, and Pulsar. In 1986, the construction of two new sedan models began with the Skyline and Pintara.
Nissan also had close ties with Holden and Ford, which led to a number of their popular cars being rebranded, bringing the Holden Astra (a Pulsar) and Ford Corsair (a Bluebird) to the showrooms here. Nissan, facing financial difficulties in the 1990s made the decision to end its operation here, and in 1992, resorted to merely exporting vehicles.
An alliance with French car manufacturer Renault in 1999 saw the ailing Nissan reverse its fortunes, and the CEO, Carlos Ghosn, being feted throughout the country as a business genius. Throughout its history, Nissan has built a wide range of commercial and private vehicles, from trucks and family cars to green-powered compact vehicles and high-performance sports cars.
The Nissan Type 15 was the first mass-produced car in Japan, and during the early days, much of their production was dedicated to assembling and later building Austin cars. In the 1960s, influenced by market demands from America, Nissan designed the Bluebird, with a synchronised 3-speed gearbox. The Nissan Patrol was marketed by claiming it could ‘climb trees.’
Nissan now competes across a wide selection of car classifications. Their current range includes the idiosyncratic crossover, the Juke; their green eco car, the Leaf; the outstanding 4x4, the X-Trail; and the hybrid sports car, the Nissan 370Z. Good-selling models in the Nissan range include the compact Altima SL and the massive Qashqai 4x4.
Other standout models through the years from Nissan have included the inexpensive compact, the Nissan Cherry; the luxurious Infiniti range; the business favourites, the Pulsar and the Skyline; and the popularly small Micra. Along with these, Nissan has produced a number of performance cars too, such as the GT-R and Datsun 240Z.
Nissan being one of the largest car manufacturers in the world and actively producing cars across the whole spectrum of car classifications will eventually come up against all other automobile producers. Worldwide, their market rivals are naturally Ford, GM, BMW, Mercedes Benz, Porsche, and Fiat.
Their own home market is also an active one where Nissan cars regularly compete against the models from Toyota, Mitsubishi, and Honda. Here, they are constantly in a ratings war against Holden; they closely match Holden for cars sold.
Rivalries have at times been put aside and on occasions Nissan has worked well with Austin, Ford, Holden, and now with Renault. Nissan has had their ups and downs but has come through the storm and established an interesting and varied range of vehicles. Some of the older models can be a good buy if you are looking for a bargain. The more recent releases have a good reputation for durability and reliability and hence are holding up quite well in the marketplace.