On this day in 1934, the Tokyo-based Jidosha-Seizo Kabushiki-Kaisha (Automobile Manufacturing Co., Ltd. in English) takes on a new name: Nissan Motor Company.
Jidosha-Seizo Kabushiki-Kaisha had been established in December 1933. The company’s new name, adopted in June 1934, was an abbreviation for Nippon Sangyo, a “zaibatsu” (or holding company) belonging to Tobata’s founder, Yoshisuke Aikawa. Nissan produced its first Datsun (a descendant of the Dat Car, a small, boxy passenger vehicle designed by Japanese automotive pioneer Masujiro Hashimoto that was first produced in 1914) at its Yokohama plant in April 1935. The company began exporting cars to Australia that same year. Beginning in 1938 and lasting throughout World War II, Nissan converted entirely from producing small passenger cars to producing trucks and military vehicles. Allied occupation forces seized much of Nissan’s production operations in 1945 and didn’t return full control to Nissan until a decade later.
In 1960, Nissan became the first Japanese automaker to win the Deming Prize for engineering excellence. New Datsun models like the Bluebird (1959), the Cedric (1960) and the Sunny (1966) helped spur Nissan sales in Japan and abroad, and the company experienced phenomenal growth over the course of the 1960s.
The energy crises of the next decade fueled the rise in exports of affordable, fuel-efficient Japanese-made cars: The third-generation Sunny got the highest score on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s tests of fuel economy in 1973. Success in the United States and other markets allowed Nissan to expand its foreign operations, which now include manufacturing and assembly plants in as many as 17 countries around the world. Today, Nissan–which dropped the Datsun name in the mid-1980s–is the third-largest car manufacturer in Japan, behind first-place Toyota and just behind Honda. After struggling in the late 1990s, the company turned itself around by building an alliance with French carmaker Renault; overhauling its luxury car line, Infiniti; and releasing the Titan pickup truck as well as revamped versions of the famous Z sports car and mid-size Altima sedan.