Dash off like a startled rabbit.

It’s kind of the perfect name for a little car that goes places quickly. 

The word Datsun actually has its origins in the last names of its three initial company partners, Kenjirō Den, Rokurō Aoyama, and Meitarō Takeuchi. The first letters of the men’s last names form DAT, which was the original name of the company when it was founded in 1914. When the company began marketing small cars in 1931, it called them Datson, as in the son of the original DAT. Two years later, the name changed to Datsun. 

The word datto in Japanese also means “to dash off like a startled rabbit”, and fit the style of the cars perfectly.

Truck Focus

The Datsun had a great deal of success from its founding, modeling its production line on that of Henry Ford. The cars made by Datsun were sporty and sleek, but small and capable. 

In 1938 when the Pacific War began, Datsun had to restrict its passenger car production due to wartime regulations. This is when the company switched to building trucks for the Japanese Imperial Army. Once the war was over, Datsun found itself manufacturing those same trucks for Allied occupation forces. 

The company switched over to control by the Japanese government in 1955 when the occupation ended. The company’s logo is still a reflection of the Japanese flag with its prominent circle to signify Japan’s title as the land of the rising sun.

Nissan Control

Datsun has actually been under the control of Japanese conglomerate Nissan from 1933, though it maintained separate production facilities for much of its run. 

During the post-war years and until 1986, Nissan was the sole exporter of vehicles with the brand name of Datsun. These proved to be popular in the United States throughout the sixties and seventies, where the low cost and high quality of the small cars and light trucks proved to be a hit with consumers. Datsun ran dealerships across the United States with models like the 1967 Bluebird 510 and the highly successful 1968 240Z, an affordable sports car. By marketing through this independent dealer network, Datsun was able to reach a huge part of the American market. 

Datsun was also highly successful in Britain. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Nissan was the largest foreign manufacturer of cars in Britain. 

Phase Out and Restart

The parent company decided to phase out the name Datsun in 1986, though the design remnants of the brand could be seen in other vehicles. 

In 2001, Nissan licensed a single light truck model with the name Datsun, the D22 pickup. Production of this model only lasted for one year. 

That changed in 2013 when Nissan brought the Datsun back as a way to enter into emerging markets with a reasonably priced and accessible vehicle. Today, Datsun is enjoying a resurgence in Asia with the Datsun Go, the Redi-Go, and the Datsun un-Do.  Datsun cars and trucks are now sold in Russia, Indonesia, South Africa, and India. Production is spread across these countries as well. The Datsun name still carries a heavy weight around the world as a brand with a reputation for high quality at an affordable cost.