Nissan Motor Company, headquartered in Nishi-ku, Yokohama, Japan, was the sixth-largest automaker in the world in 2012. Since 1999, it has been part of the Renault-Nissan Alliance and sells its cars under the Nissan, Infiniti, Datsun, and NISMO brands.
The company’s beginnings don’t start with Nissan, but rather with the Datsun name. In 1911, Masujiro Hashimoto started the Kwanishinsha Motor Car Works. The company produced its first car, the DAT, in 1914. The company was renamed to DAT Jidosha & Co. in 1918 and merged with small-truck maker Jitsuyo Jidosha Co. in 1926 to form DAT Jidosha Seizo Co.
DAT created a smaller car in 1931 and called it the Datson, meaning “Son of DAT.” Later the last syllable was changed from “son” to “sun” because in Japanese, “son” also means “loss.”
The Nissan name first appeared in 1928 when Yoshisuke Aikawa founded Nihon Sangyo, a holding company. During the 1930s, the name appeared as an abbreviation of the name on the Tokyo stock market. The company controlled foundries and automobile parts businesses.
Nissan Motor Company emerged in 1934 from Tobata Casting, which became affiliated with DAT Jidosha Seizo in 1931 and its Datsun line of vehicles. A plant was constructed in Yokohama in 1935 and 44 of the Datsun vehicles were shipped out from the plant.
In the 1930s, Datsun established a partnership with Austin Motor Company to first build models of the Austin Sevens under license. Nissan entered into an agreement with Austin in 1952 to produce and market Austin cars. Nissan leveraged Austin patents to create its own modern engine designs, beginning with the Nissan L engine, which brought the company respect in the sedan market.
Nissan was a major vehicle producer for the U.S. Army during the Korean War, and after the war, anti-communist sentiment was prevalent in Japan. Nissan’s workers union was militant, and when financial difficulties came and the company had to take a hard line during wage negotiations. The union struck, and the company locked out workers, firing many. Eventually, the union ran out of strike funds and was defeated. A new union was organized, and the result was a rapid expansion of Nissan based on advances suggested and supported by the union.
In the 1950s, Nissan expanded into the worldwide market by filling the small car need with its Datsun line. The 1960s saw the company enter the luxury sedan market by its merger with Prince Motor Company.
The 1973 oil crisis created further demand for smaller, more fuel efficient cars, which led to Nissan building plants around the world. In 1981, the company shelved the Datsun name and began selling vehicles under the Nissan name.
Despite its success in the small-car market, by 1999 Nissan had financial difficulties, so it entered into an alliance with Renault S.A. of France. The resulting Japanese-French car manufacturing partnership, the first of its kind, revitalized the Nissan brand.
The flagship car for the Nissan brand is the Maxima, which is considered a luxury performance sedan. The front-wheel-drive Maxima is powered by a potent 3.5-liter V6 that makes 290 horsepower and 261 lb-ft of torque. This engine is managed by a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT).
In Japan, the Nissan Fuga, which has curves influenced by Jaguar and Maserati, is the flagship, luxury model. In the United States and other countries, the model is sold under the company’s Infiniti brand as the Infiniti M. The Nissan Maxima now has much of Infiniti’s high quality and plenty of passenger space.
Nissan’s current lineup of vehicles includes 29 cars, trucks, and commercial vehicles. Besides the Maxima, the Altima is a popular sedan model.
The company also has several truck and SUV models. These include the front-wheel drive Murano and the V8 Armada. The Nissan Frontier has been a popular truck since the late 1990s.
Nissan has also made entries in more specialized models, like the electric hybrid LEAF, the sporty Juke, and the aptly named Nissan Cube.
Nissan has produced an extensive range of cars and trucks in its history, beginning with the Datsun brand of vehicles. The Datsun 510 and 240Z cars featured an engine design similar to Mercedes-Benz OHC designs and gave the company respect in the sedan world.
The Datsun brand was retired in 1984, and vehicles began to be sold under the Nissan name. However, in July 2013, Nissan announced it would relaunch the Datsun targeted at emerging markets.
Since 1989, Nissan has sold its luxury models under the Infiniti brand.
In August 2013, Nissan announced plans to launch several driverless cars by 2020. Nissan installed its autonomous car technology in a Nissan Leaf all-electric car for demonstration purposes, which was demonstrated at Nissan 360 test drive event held in California in August 2013.
Nissan has also had a number of ventures outside the automotive industry, most notably the Tu–Ka mobile phone, which was sold to DDI and Japan Telecom in 1999.