November 8, 2012

Datsun to Get Brand Reboot After 30 Years

In early October 2012, Japanese auto giant Nissan announced plans to resurrect a brand it stopped selling nearly 30 years ago: Datsun.

Baby Boomers and Gen Xers may remember the Datsun brand because the "Nissan" brand didn't even exist in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand or elsewhere until the early 1980s. Officially, the decision to change the name Datsun to Nissan in the U.S. was announced in the autumn of 1981. The rationale was that the name change would "help the company pursue a global strategy", and the Nissan brand was a key component of that strategy. Datsun was rebranded to Nissan (at considerable expense to the company) in many markets in spite of having already built considerable brand equity in the "Datsun" brand over the years.

The name change campaign actually lasted for several years between 1982 to 1984, and was quite costly for the company. Among the costs incurred were changing the signs at over 1,100 Datsun dealerships to Nissan, as well as a costly ad campaign to introduce the Nissan brand to American consumers, and an awkward period where both the Nissan and Datsun logos appeared on automobiles (at one point, cars had logos with "Datsun by Nissan", part of the effort to familiarize American consumers with the "new" Nissan brand name (in fact, Nissan was always the company's name in Japan).

Below is a 1979 television commercial for what was arguably one the company's last campaigns for the Datsun brand in the United States (alternatively, it can be seen at

Why reboot a brand that has been part of the history books for 30 years?

The Datsun brand is being reintroduced in hopes of attracting "aspirational customers" in high-growth, emerging markets. The company CEO Carlos Ghosn claimed it will rely on Datsun's reputation for small, sporty, inexpensive cars to attract young consumers in the world's developing economies.  The Wall Street Journal reported (see the article at, note that a Wall Street Journal online subscription may be required to access the article) that "Datsun is scheduled to hit the road in India, Indonesia and Russia in 2014."

But Mr. Ghosn said he wanted to announce the long-rumored revival in Indonesia to underline the growing importance of the Southeast Asian market."  Consumers in the announced markets can expect Datsuns to be a decidedly bare-bones vehicle compared to what U.S. and Japanese consumers buy, but a car that's intended to compete with low-cost automakers such as China's Chery Automobile or India's Tata Motors, which are now exporting their own low-cost vehicles to many developing markets around the world.  Those car brands actually look kind of like the 1979 Datsun in the commercial above did!

Nissan believes that it, as a global automaker, can effectively compete in this rapidly-growing segment of the automobile market.  The company plans to sell Datsuns for around $5,000, which is less than half the price of Nissan's least-expensive vehicles sold in the U.S.  However, the company's much-vaunted quality could actually put the Chinese brands at a very big competitive disadvantage.

Don't expect to see any new Datsuns in the U.S. anytime soon.

To sell a car for prices that low, many of the standard features that are required (such as airbags) will not be included in the new Datsuns, and the cut-rate priced cars wouldn't be allowed in the U.S. because the cars couldn't pass U.S. safety, emissions or fuel-efficiency requirements. But, the next time you visit India, Indonesia or Russia in 2014, you might just see Datsuns in those markets.

Time magazine suggests Americans may soon see some ultra-cheap cars in the U.S., even if they aren't Datsuns (see that article by visiting, writing "Within three years, though, we may finally get to see whether American drivers will be interested in a 'luxury' version of the bare-bones [Tata] car".  However, the outlook for success remains unclear.  Who remembers the Yugo?!

Author P.S., October 20, 2014:  Businessweek reports (see Datsun's second life, in India, isn't doing very well.  Apparently, low prices alone aren't sufficient for success even in the developing world.

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