Datsun is Dead Again

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

Datsun is dead again and the likelihood of you having any emotions tied to the matter hinges upon whether or not you were driving prior to the 1990s. Formerly a catch-all brand for Nissan’s exports, the automaker eventually decided to unify its products under a single name when Ronald Reagan was in the White House and Max Headroom was talking up the merits of New Coke on cathode-ray tubed televisions.

While the Datsun moniker would grace the odd pickup on the Japanese domestic market after the 1980s, Nissan planned a compressive relaunch of the brand in 2013. The following year, Datsun became a low-cost car marque for Indonesia, Nepal, South Africa, India, and Russia. A few years later, Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Lebanon were added to the brand’s list of markets. However, Datsun had announced a retreat from Indonesia and Russia in 2019 and has since confirmed that it will be halting production in India later this year — effectively ending Datsun’s existence once again.

Up until 1986, just about everything Nissan exported to the United States carried the Datsun name. The moniker can be traced back to the 1920s, when the business was known as DAT Motors, and would not become Nissan until the brand had reached true zaibatsu status and started focusing on building larger, American-style vehicles in the late 1930s. While the Datsun name stuck around, it gradually became known for the smaller non-truck models before shipping out its first batch of exports to the United States in 1958.

By this time, the automaker’s products had taken a more European approach to automobiles due to its relationship with the Austin — specifically in relation to the Datsun 1000 (210). By the 1960s, the company was establishing factories around the world to help with its worldwide expansion. Nissan elected to begin phasing out the Datsun name in 1981 after leadership decided it would be easier to market products globally under a single banner.

Ironically, the Datsun name would remain more recognizable for several years in the U.S. — though not for a lack of effort. During those interim years, Nissan launched an extensive ad campaign to explain the rebranding. Cars even left the factory with small Nissan badges for a few years to help ease the public into the transition. But this arguably made things even more confusing. New models (e.g. Sentra) were often given the Nissan prefix while older cars had a better chance of sticking around for a few years before officially becoming Nissan products. This often resulted in lots full of vehicles that were labeled as Datsun, Nissan, or “Datsun by Nissan.”

In this way, Nissan kind of became the New Coke of automakers. Much in the way Coca-Cola got spooked by Pepsi, Datsun became worried that Honda and Toyota had gained a competitive advantage by nature of having a single name for all regions. Swapping to the Nissan badge is estimated to have cost the company hundreds of millions of dollars. Despite delivering increasingly good products, consumers became confused and assumed the change had been made out of desperation — again, mimicking what happened with New Coke.

The only difference is that New Coke became Coke II (which I recall tasting great) before being discontinued in 2002, whereas Datsun stayed Nissan until it reemerged as a new subsidiary in 2013.

Production at the Renault-Nissan plant in Chennai, India, has officially ended. That means the Renault-based Datsun Go has followed the AvtoVAZ-built Datsun mi-Do (Lada Kalina) and on-Do (Lada Granta) into oblivion. Though there are conflicting reports about exactly when individual Go models were discontinued. Autocar India reported that production had all but ended at the start of 2021, with the Redi-Go being the final vehicle to get the ax. Considering the manufacturer didn’t even reach 5,000 deliveries for the market last year, it’s easy to see why Nissan pulled out.

The entire industry has also been prioritizing higher-margin (more expensive) vehicles in a bid to improve profitability during an inflationary period — or at least until it sees customers getting tired of paying more for vehicles. Though Nissan left its official statement pretty basic.

“As part of Nissan’s global transformation strategy, the company is focusing on core models and segments that bring the most benefit to customers, dealer partners and the business. Production of the Datsun Redigo has ceased at the Chennai plant,” it explained.

Datsun customers will allegedly be taken care of. They’ll simply have to get their vehicles serviced at Nissan dealerships, with the company confirming that existing warranties will be honored.

“We can reassure all existing and future Datsun owners that customer satisfaction remains our priority, and we will continue to provide the highest levels of aftersales service, parts availability and warranty support from our national dealership network,” stated the automaker.

[Images: Nissan; S.Candide/Shutterstock]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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3 of 27 comments
  • Zombie Dodge Zombie Dodge on Apr 26, 2022

    Reminds me of back in the seventies, when Nissan sent a planeload of parts to the US but the cargo door wasn't closed. It was raining Datsun cogs.

  • Garrett Garrett on Apr 26, 2022

    Nissan only seems to be memorable as the company that makes Altimas that are destined to be driven aggressively on the freeway while in rather poor condition. If they could bring back the Datsun name, attach good products to it, and give the Nissan brand a viking funeral, it would be for the best.

    • ToolGuy ToolGuy on Apr 26, 2022

      "Altimas that are destined to be driven aggressively on the freeway while in rather poor condition" We should always be careful with stereotypes -- because sometimes they are 92.475% accurate like this one.

  • ChristianWimmer The interior might be well-made, but the design is just hideous in my opinion. It’s to busy and there’s no simplistic harmony visible in it. In fact I feel that the nicest Lexus interior ever could be found in the original LS400 - because it was rather minimalistic, had pleasing lines and didn’t try to hard. It looked just right. All Lexus interiors which came after it just had bizarre styling cues and “tried to hard” if you know what I mean.
  • THX1136 As a couple of folks have mentioned wasn't this an issue with the DeLorean? I seem to recall that it was claimed you could do a 'minor' buff of the surface and it would be good as new. Guess I don't see why it's a big deal if it can be so easily rectified. Won't be any different than getting out and waxing the car every so often - part of ownership, eh.
  • ToolGuy This kind of thing might be interesting in a racing simulator.
  • FreedMike Hmmm, electric powered vibrations. Is this the long rumored move into products market?
  • MrIcky /Checks date on his calendar- nope, not April 1st.I have a transducer in my home theater seat for sub-bass. Not sure if this is patent worthy.