NEWS: Nissan will axe the Datsun brand… again

Reports are circulating that Nissan will soon undergo a massive restructuring plan and on the chopping block is the Datsun, revived in 2013 as a low-cost brand in developing countries. It was one of former CEO Carlos Ghosn’s crowning achievements during his tenure at Nissan, but it hasn’t panned out exactly as he had hoped.

The most recent launch of the Datsun brand — the third in Nissan history — came about with much fanfare in 2013 as part of then-CEO Carlos Ghosn’s aggressive plans for global growth. It was meant to grab market share in what Ghosn called “rising” nations, debuting in India and soon expanding to Russia, Indonesia, and South Africa. Incredibly, Ghosn predicted that the brand could account for half of Nissan’s sales by 2016.

That never happened. In India the main selling point of Datsun cars, affordability, was seen as a demerit. Buyers didn’t want what was perceived as a cheap, “stripped-down version of a Nissan” according to Marketwatch. The same article says that during its first 10 months, Datsun sold only about 1,500 per month, quite short of the 5,000 per month target. By the end of 2019, Datsun models were only selling a few hundred units per month, getting absolutely destroyed by Hyundai, Maruti-Suzuki, and even Nissan’s own corporate partner Renault.

Now, Nissan is facing a sales collapse, exacerbated by a regulatory scandal, financial misconduct at the top, and worldwide automotive production grinding to a halt amidst the coronavirus pandemic. However, Nissan’s woes began long before COVID-19, with a decline in sales that started three years ago, the result of Ghosn’s unsustainable expansion. His all-out desire for market share was stretching Nissan too thin, diverting resources from vital areas of the business (Infiniti, anyone?).

So, after seven years the Datsun name will be killed off once again, Autoblog reports, as part of the “performance recovery plan,” as it is called internally. Also included in the plan is the closing of excess production capacity, as well as budget cuts in research and marketing. The Titan full-size pickup is almost certainly dead, too.

The origins of the Datsun name can be traced back to 1914, to the company that would eventually become Nissan, and a car called the DAT. Named by combining the names of the three primary investors, Den, Aoyama, and Takeuichi, the first car to wear the Datsun name was a 1930 prototype. Originally, they wanted to call it DAT-son, but because son can mean “loss” in Japanese, it was changed to Datsun.

When Nissan expanded into western markets, so the story goes, they used the name Datsun so that the Nissan name wouldn’t be tainted if the cars failed miserably. After models like the 510 and 240Z helped the company become a resounding success, Nissan started to phase out Datsun in 1981 and the rest is history. Now, once again, Datsun will fall so Nissan can thrive.

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7 Responses to NEWS: Nissan will axe the Datsun brand… again

  1. lacerati says:

    Looking forward to 2038, when I can import a 2013 Datsun Go. I wonder if any will survive that long… 🙂

  2. DesignerD says:

    It’s a shame to loose the brand, but yes, people with very little money don’t like to be told that thy can’t afford nice things. It pushes them to desire better meaning they’d rather buy a secondhand old Jag, Merc or even a BMW in India that a cheap reskinned Nissan.

    I always thought they should have brought out the IDx (I know, one day I’ll stop harping on about it) in the more developed markets such as Japan, US and Europe as a Datsun, or rather “the only Datsun” car. Just this one product. That way the main Nissan brand can remain future focused and more modern in it’s evolution, whilst Datsun can expand into a simple yet heritage or characterful design, much like the Fiat 500 or Mini brands but without the unnecessary overly retro elements. This would also benefit Nismo for heritage inspired accessories and editions like using the BRE 510 history particularly in the US. The developing markets would then view the name and products with more respect and when other vehicles join the lineup, they have a flagship model to aspire to. But alas, it wasn’t to be.

    And Ghosn standing next to a car that costs less than his suit, let alone his watch is not the best message.

    • Ant says:

      Budget brands certainly have to be done right. Your first paragraph makes a good point, and that exact reasoning is why when Tata brought out the Nano, the world’s cheapest car at the time, sales were poor – even those who could only *just* afford a car didn’t want to be seen buying the very cheapest.

      The weird thing is, Renault-Nissan already has the perfect brand: Dacia. The Sandero is the world’s second-best selling B-segment car. It’s sold in both relatively rich and relatively poor countries, where it’s great value in the former and affordable in the latter.

      It’s among the cheapest cars on sale but it’s also simply a good car, so there’s no stigma attached, and it’s profitable because it uses older technology and because its low price means people are compelled to spend extra on high-margin things like options.

      I imagine the Datsun name means more in certain countries, but it’s a brand that didn’t really need to exist. Sell Dacia worldwide and tailor the products to the right markets. I bet even Americans would buy the Duster SUV if it was sold over there, at two thirds the price of a Jeep Renegade or whatever.

      • DesignerD says:

        Totally agree, I believe the Duster is rebranded a Renault in some markets. If you look at Dacia now, it’s got better tech and detailing than many other more premium brands! Plus, Dacia had a core following in central and eastern Europe which Renault capitalised on. The Datsun brand failed outright to capitalise on their historical strengths and communicate them in a new way to emerging customers.

        From a design perspective, I felt like the Datsun Design Direction at the time wanted cheap cars to look cheap. Maybe the design team wasn’t up to par (although I know many of them and there were some excellent designers there). I would have placed the top designers from all the global studios in a month-long brainstorm sketch session to create a look and feel. Even economic engineering can look a million dollars with good aesthetic sense and taste. Again look at the current Dacia lineup. Making it look cheap for cheap’s sake, well, that’s no way to convince a customer.

  3. dankan says:

    It should never have been brought back, since Sloan Plan type strategies seem to no longer suit the modern marketplace. Everyone wants the premium product, even if they can’t afford it. Creating a brand specifically to tell everyone you can’t was marketing suicide. Then again, a lot of what Nissan has been doing for years seemed like that. Hell, even the best Nissan ad, and one of the best car ads of all time (the 300ZX toy commercial) was an example of this.

    Nissan had a whole bunch of early leads in things which have been big themes of the last 10 years, and likely the next 10, and failed to capitalize on them every time. Can’t say I’ve seen anything to show me that will change.

  4. F31Roger says:

    Being an Infiniti guy, I wonder if Infiniti will soon follow. Not much excitement and everything is named “Q”.

    And with what is going on in the world, I think it would be awesome if they just started to do a bunch of heritage programs! I don’t see myself buying a brand new Nissan anytime soon, but if they did a heritage program for the 80/90s cars I love, I would be spend money on that end.

    • Ben Hsu says:

      Infiniti has potential. It just wasn’t being seriously looked after because resource were being spent on other things, like Datsun and Ghosn’s maniacal desire to acquire market share.

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