Nissan is Japan’s second largest automotive manufacturer, but third in U.S. sales behind Toyota and Honda. Its cars were originally sold as Datsun models in the U.S. before transitioning to the Nissan brand in the early 1980s.
Nissan is a mainstream brand founded in 1933 as the Automobile Manufacturing Co., Ltd. The original company took over the automotive manufacturing from Tobata Casting, builder of Datsun vehicles. The Nissan corporation assumed its current name in 1934, but continued to build Datsun models for the next half century.
In 1935, the first small Datsun model was built and was followed by heavy-duty trucks and buses in 1937. Production came to a halt during World War II, but resumed in 1945 with Nissan trucks and in 1947 with Datsun cars. In the 1950s, Nissan brokered a deal with the U.K.’s Austin to build the British car locally. At the same time, new Datsun models, including the 210 were developed. The Datsun 210 also participated in motorsports.
Rapid expansion in the 1960s for Nissan included the acquisition of Prince Motors, which was the builder of the Skyline (forerunner of the current Nissan GT-R). The Datsun 1000 was the first Nissan model sold in the U.S., arriving in 1958. This compact sedan shared its underpinnings with the Nissan truck.
The earliest Datsun models included the Fairlady 1200 Roadster, the Datsun 320 truck, the 411 sedan and the 1600 Roadster.
The 1970s provided Nissan with exceptional growth in the U.S. as consumers turned to smaller cars. In 1971, the Datsun 240Z was introduced, the spiritual forerunner for today’s Nissan 370Z. A larger 510 sedan was introduced as well as the Datsun B210GX, a gas-powered model with a 50 mpg rating.
By the early 1980s, the automaker began to make the transition from Datsun to the Nissan brand name in a bid to unify its brands worldwide. The 1980s also saw Nissan establishing manufacturing facilities in the U.S. The Nissan Sentra was the first model built in the USA.
Throughout the 1990s, Nissan’s product line continued to expand. The Nissan Frontier Crew Cab was the first four-door compact truck. New or updated models included the Altima, Maxima, Quest and the Nissan 300ZX.
The new century brought forth the Nissan Titan, the brand’s first full-size pickup truck. The brand also expanded its SUV lineup, introducing Murano, Xterra and Armada models. Funky models such as the Cube and Juke followed. In 2011, the all-electric Nissan Leaf was introduced. In more recent years, Nissan introduced new or updated versions of its Versa subcompact line, including the Nissan Versa Note. An updated Nissan Rogue and a redesigned Nissan Pathfinder also debuted.
Nissan has also welcomed a commercial vehicle division, introducing the full-size NV Cargo van followed by the NV200 small van. It has added NISMO (Nissan Motorsports) variations of several models, including the 370Z, GT-R, Juke and Sentra.
Besides Honda and Toyota, Nissan competes with Ford, Chevrolet, Dodge, Buick, GMC, Chrysler, Ram and Jeep. The automaker also counts Volkswagen, Hyundai, Fiat, Kia, Subaru, Mazda and Mitsubishi amongst its competitors. For buyers seeking more luxurious models, Nissan’s Infiniti marque might be considered.