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Datsun: We Are Driven...again?

A once-familiar is apparently getting ready to make its return – but the revival of the old Datsun brand will be targeted at new and emerging markets.

Expanding upon recent rumors, Japan’s well-regarded Nikkei news service reports the Datsun name once used by Nissan in major markets such as the U.S. will make its return in 2014.  But the “new” Datsun won’t replace Nissan is the States, Japan or other established markets.  Instead, it will be dusted off to serve as a back-up brand for Nissan’s lowest-priced entries in emerging markets such as India, Indonesia and Russia.

Plans call for Datsun-branded vehicles to be produced in those markets, as well.

The Japanese business publication suggests that Nissan will target vehicles in the price range of around 500,000 yen, or US$6,200.

Nissan Motor Co.’s goals are moderately ambitious, with sales forecast at around 300,000 annually in the near-term.

In a sense, the reborn brand would be returning to its roots.  The name was created in 1931 – though then spelled Datson – to differentiate a line of small cars sold by the DAT Motorcar Co. of Japan.  The spelling was later changed to Datsun because “son” can be translated to mean “loss” in Japanese.  The parent company eventually became part of what is known as Nissan today.

The name was used for Nissan when it came to the United States after the Second World War but created a bit of confusion on a global scale.  The automaker decided to switch to its correct badge, beginning to phase out the Datsun name in 1986.  But the transition created more confusion than it solved, especially among American consumers, and was blamed for years of weak sales by the newly renamed Nissan in the American marketplace.

Talk of reviving the Datsun brand has been floating around for years, but gained momentum as Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn began pressing the maker to target emerging markets, such as China, Brazil, India and Russia.

The strategy, insiders suggest, would help protect the more up-market corporate identity from being diluted by stripped-down products sold as Datsuns.  The same strategy has been used, in various ways, by other makers.

General Motors introduced the Chevrolet brand to Europe, a few years back, to handle base-model, Korean-made products priced significantly below the offerings of the German-based Opel brand.  More recently, GM and its Chinese partner SAIC have launched Baojun, a low-cost brand targeting first-time buyers outside the booming cities along China’s Pacific coast.

Volkswagen, meanwhile, uses entry-level brands like Spanish-based SEAT and Czech Republic’s Skoda to deal with buyers on a budget, rather than moving the mainstream VW marque down-market.

Officials from Nissan were not available to comment on the Nikkei report.

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