By on April 25, 2022

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]

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27 Comments on “Datsun is Dead Again...”

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Too bad; “Datsun” is a good name and I had hoped it would return to the US.

    But I think this is the true reason Datsun bit the dust:
    “The entire industry has also been prioritizing higher-margin (more expensive) vehicles in a bid to improve profitability during an inflationary period”

    That, and carrying an extra brand name is costly. Speaking of which…

    The people who need to worry are the guys at Infiniti, which lost 2/3 of its US sales from 2017 – 2021. Nissan just might decide to kill off another brand as part of its streamlining.

  • avatar

    First Datsun was driven, now it’s dead.

  • avatar

    I might be dating myself but in the early 70s during the first gas crunch their ads were “Suddenly Its going to Dawn on You…Datsun Saves” or “It’s a long way to empty in a Datsun!” That was still better than Pontiac’s “More Pontiac Excitement to the Gallon” ad campaign…

  • avatar

    My parents owned two of those ‘Datsun by Nissan’ era cars which I ultimately ended up driving. And I recently sold a 71 Datsun truck which still showed its Austin engineering roots by all its body and chassis fasteners being imperial

  • avatar

    I am old enough to remember Datsun Maxima. That was no front wheel drive vehicle. That was a rear wheel drive flagship with stick shift. Even when they moved it front wheel drive platform, it was still a great vehicle.

    Until, the French took over. Any time the French get involved in anything it is downhill (the exception is Michelin tire, the best tires in the world, period).

    The French ruined Datsun/Nisssan. Cheap CVTs. Cheap platforms. They lost their Japanese identity. Toyota and Honda and Mazda and Subaru are Japanese. Nissan is garbage French. Hopefully now with that CEO hiding somewhere in Middle East, Nissan becomes Japanese again and they will become great again. Let’s hope.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m not holding my breath on that. The executives at Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi are too stubborn to realize they screwed it up on that nightmare of a transmission. Moreover, Ghosn has been gone for 3-4 years? Other than the new Frontier I’m not digging for anything at Nissan. I’m saying they will keep betting on those CVTs and tired powertrains until they make the full transition to EVs.

      PS. I loved my Nissan-Datsun 720 4×4

      • 0 avatar

        I’m with you. After the CVT, I’m thinking “If there’s anyone I’m NOT going to buy a variable-compression engine from…”

        There’s just not anything that would have me running to a Nissan showroom. Even the new Z. Their last product that really got my attention was the original G35 coupe.

        Really, what Nissan should’ve done for a ‘budget’ line was badge the cars as Mitsubishis.

    • 0 avatar

      “Any time the French get involved in anything it is downhill…”

      This is what happens when you learn your history from Newsmax. Without the French, we’d be singing “God Save The Queen” before baseball games.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Datsun might have made an interesting entry level brand here in the states with rebadged Dacia models. A few years ago they were selling base Versa sedans for $10k.

  • avatar

    a 58 datsun, parked next to a 58 belaire? i could see people thinking maybe these japanese are crazy failures?

  • avatar

    Inexpensive vehicles are endangered species globally and nearly extinct in USA.
    Idea of Datsun appeals to me. Nissans implementation does not. None of the Datsun vehicles are interesting.
    Renault succeeds with Dacia Duster, Oroch, and Logan as well as Renault Kwid in the same segments Datsun failed.

  • avatar

    Another real-world MBA in Marketing failure. My ’80 280ZX carried “Datsun, by Nissan” badges which seemed innocent enough, like Corvette, by Chevrolet. But they managed to perfectly time the full rollout of the Nissan brand times with the release of some really weird cars; the 310, the Pulsar, the Stanza, F10… cars that looked like they were styled by martians. Some great products as well; 510 sedans and wagon, the 620/720 trucks (first with the “King Cab”), the Z/ZX cars, early 810/Maxima, the lowly B210. The message I received was, we really don’t know what or who we want to be. Since then, Nissan’s lineup has been lukewarm and it appears the fiasco at Infiniti has really drained their resources and enthusiasm. That and a CEO who makes Gordon Gecko look like a Saint and a dealer network that seems to be taking their cues from Mitsubishi. Time for a major reboot Nissan with a strong focus on product and perhaps some marketing linking your rich history and past with some decent new product.

  • avatar
    Zombie Dodge

    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.

  • avatar
    Zombie Dodge

    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.

  • avatar

    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.

    • 0 avatar

      “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.

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