Datsun Returns, and Some Ask Why

1983 Datsun Sentra

Nissan announced this week that it was reviving the Datsun brand to represent the company in developing markets—namely India, Indonesia and Russia—beginning in 2014. Datsun cars became Nissans in 1981-’82.

The company plans to put $400 million into modernizing its Indonesia facility and tripling its dealerships in Southeast Asia. This lucrative market has been dominated by Toyota and is growing rapidly. One report predicts auto sales in Indonesia will rise by 50 percent in five years.

For those in the U.S., memories of Datsun cars can encompass everything from the 1982 Sentra pictured above (one of which was owned by my son, who says it was the absolute worst-handling car he ever drove) to the 240Z280Z cars that were loved by many.

So Nissan will recreate Datsun as a low-end brand to capture some of the burgeoning minicar-subcompact market in developing countries. The question is why did they resurrect the old name?

One reason, I will guess, is that putting “Datsun” on cheap small cars keeps the taint away from the Nissan and Infiniti marques. The advantages of having a “unity brand” would quickly fade under presumed damage to the brand’s reputation.

Datsun Brochure, 1974

Branding is a tricky business, particularly in cars, and we have seen GM lose many of its “heritage brands” that in fact were nothing more than rebadged vehicles. Ditto with Chrysler and the demise of Plymouth, Oldsmobile, etc.

But with the interest in bringing back old names and models (i.e., Dodge Dart and Fiat 500), Nissan may rekindle the Datsun flame. The difference is that the new Datsuns will be low-end solely and, for the time being, limited to the countries and regions named.

And, of course, brands evolve. A New York Times story highlights the evolution of the GMC brand—from the workhorse trucks of the ’30s to the overwrought, bloated SUVs of today, which are selling like mad.

So Nissan may be on the right track here. Is it smart to bring back the Datsun nameplate?


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  1. Nissan dropped the Datsun name here because it became synonymous with the “old wave” of Japanese vehicles— junky little underpowered crackerboxes that rusted out quickly and were very expensive to maintain. Most likely these new markets have zero memory to be tainted by past failures, unless Datsun was making bicycles. It’s amazing to see some of the brands now like Honda, which I remember as a motorcycle manufacturer who starting bringing in nasty little death traps in the late 1960’s that most Americans couldn’t even fit into. Yes, they do evolve, and some even devolve. (As Honda seems to be starting to do.)

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