But before you read the story of this company that has a history almost as long as Ford's, and equally as tumultuous, you have to understand a bit about the Japanese. I admit I am no expert on the culture, but I do know what I have read about the people involved in the Japanese automobile industry.

In the beginning of Japanese auto manufacturing, power belonged to the traditionally powerful. Old family ties and status ruled, with a smaller emphasis on the importance of education in business. In the first half of the century, who your family was had more to do with your success than how much ambition you had. By the same count, it wasn't just that you went to high school or university, it was far more important that you went to the best high school and the best University. Rags to riches stories did not seem to happen in Japan.

After the WWII, the allies in control of rebuilding the Japanese economy decided to shake things up a bit. A lot of the old guard Japanese were purged from business for being pro-military during the war. This made room for some of the more ambitious educated men, regardless of social status. The other thing the Allies did was allow the formation of unions, most of which would've been viewed of as radical by western standards.

The Union/Management relationship in the Japanese Auto industry was and is somewhat unique. In Japan, or at least Nissan, union leaders had just about as much power as company executives did after WWII. Union leaders had a huge influence on the direction of the company and usually knew more about what was going to happen than most of the top execs.

Union Leaders were so pro-worker at first that they nearly sent the company into bankruptcy with their demands. To counter this, each company eventually established its own union, full of men loyal to the company. This is very different from the US, where the UAW is the union for all US manufacturers but not really loyal to any of them. These company unions still exist today with most Japanese automakers.

Another thing you must understand is the psychology of the Japanese car buyer. It wasn't really acceptable for the lower classes to own cars until the sixties; they were only for the upper middle class and above. The last thing you wanted to be in Japan was a show off, so cars and trucks were reserved for the rich and the bold, and for commerce and business. Buses and taxis far outnumbered private cars for most of the history of the Japanese automobile. It wasn't until the 60's that the average Japanese worker could afford a car, and it wasn't till then that they were really allowed to become consumers. Even then, a car was a luxury, something to be pampered. While Henry Ford had sold millions of vehicles before the Second World War, the Japanese industry, even with exports, had produced a tiny fraction of that.

Why am I pointing all this out? Because in the course of this story you're going to come across sales figures and production numbers that look tiny compared to US automakers. But you can't make comparisions based on numbers because there was a completely different way of thinking in Japan. Japanese private citizens pretty much didn't own cars for the first half of the 20th Century, thus production numbers are low. Being innovative had less to do with your success than your family ties and education did, thus progress was slow at first. Unions fear change, and for a while in the late 40's and early 50's Nissan had very powerful a union, thus innovation was slow for a while.

But things change. Nissan was able to change over time, to go from meek to agressive, to adapt and then excel in ways no one could have imagined.

Now on with the story...

The Beginnings of the Japanese Automobile.

A steam-powered car built by Torao Yamaba in 1904, was the first recorded Japanese automobile. This massive 10 seater was a chain driven machine designed for the transportation of the rather large Yamaba Family. The first gasoline powered car was built in 1907 by the Automobile Trading Co., dubbed the Takuri. A dozen 2 cylinder 1.85 liter Takuri's were built based on a design by Komanosuke Uchiyama, Japans first car designer.

The first four cylinder car was a luxury sedan manufactured jointly by Tokyo Kunisue Automobile Works and the Tokyo motor vehicle Works in 1911. It was propelled by a water cooled 1.3 liter L head engine featuring a magneto ignition and achieved 16 plus horsepower. The amount of developments might sound pretty good for a fledgling industry, but actual production numbers were still less than 50 total automobiles by 1912.

And then came Masujiro Hashimoto...

The Teens and 20's; D.A.T.

The roots of Datsun go back as far as 1911. It was then that Masujiro Hashimoto, an American trained engineer, created Kwaishinsha Motors with the help of three investors. Hashimoto wasn't like most other early Japanese automobile inventors, he had the advantage of several years of study in New York under his belt. Hashimoto's dream was to build the first Japanese regular production automobile.

His first experimental car, completed in 1912, was not considered much of a success. The next real attempt was the 1914 prototype for the DAT model 31, which was met with much more enthusiasm. It was about this time that the company came up with the beginnings of the Datsun name.

The name comes, in part, from the names of the three original investors: Kenjiro D en who helped organize the original company, Rokuro A oyama a childhood friend, and Meitaro T akeuchi- a cousin of a former prime minister who helped arrange financing... hence the name DAT. Roughly translated it means "hare","fast rabbit", or "very fast" in Japanese, depending on whose translation you want to believe.

The DAT model 31 was marketed in 1915, followed by the 1916 DAT model 41, the later being produced straight through until 1925.

Dat model 41

The Dat 41 was an "economy luxury" car, powered by a 15 horsepower engine, and was capable of carrying 5 passengers. Each one was hand made, thus total production numbers were low. Another reason for low production numbers was that Japan relied on rail and shipping for all long distance travel at the time, mostly because roads outside cities were still pretty primitive. Cars were pretty much confined to cities.

Son of "Dat"

1917 saw the restructuring of Kwaishinsha Motors due to financial difficulties. The company was essentially taken over by its sales agency, and became the Dat Motor Vehicle Co, which apparently used the Kwaishinsha name on some ventures. This new company produced the Dat model 51. According to a couple of sources, a small 2 seat roadster version of the type 51 was nicknamed the Datson by Hashimoto, as in "son-of-Dat", probably because of the size difference between it and the type 51 it was derived from. This version of the origin of the Datson name is contradicted by other sources.

Model 51 Torpedo

The model 51 was available in several body styles, including the torpedo, had a 15 horse water cooled engine, manual transmission, and conventional drivetrain.

DAT started a joint venture with Tokyo Gas Denki in the early twenties to produce industrial vehicles, after a 1918 Japanese government law that gave financial support to manufacturers of military vehicles.

A very early picture of the factory with a Type 51 and a truck, Masujiro Hashimoto is actually standing out front.

The came the event that would kick start the automobile industry in Japan. The Great Japanese Earthquake of 1923 basically leveled vast amounts of industry and most conventional infrastructure, including railroads. This was the break the struggling Japanese auto industry needed. Suddenly there was a nationwide need for transportation, especially trucks. A lot of this transportation void was filled by imported vehicles, Ford and GM mostly, but DAT got a share of the market.

Ford was the first American automaker to set up an assembly plant in Japan, doing so in 1925 with the Japan Ford Motor Co. of Yokohama. GM followed in 1927 with the Japan General Motors company of Osaka. Japanese assembled American vehicles dominated sales, driving some early domestic manufacturers out of business.

DAT continued to build cars and trucks in Tokyo until 1926, when it absorbed Jitsuyo Jidosha Seizo (the name means Practical Automobile Company) to form the Dat Automobile Manufacturing Co. of Osaka. After the merger, both companies pretty much gave up the production of cars, and concentrated on building trucks. JJS had been producing a car called the Lila up to this point, a car designed by American William R. Gorham.

William R Gorham was born in 1888 in the US. At the age of 14 he built a motorized wagon by taking a lawnmower engine and adapting it to his toy wagon. His professional interest first focused on aircraft design, automobiles were too far along in development for his taste. In 1918 he answered an ad from a Japanese company to design fighter airplanes, got the job, and moved his family to Japan. When he got there, there was no need for fighter aircraft as the first world war had ended by then, so Gorham set about designing the first motorized rickshaw; it was a huge success all over Southeast Asia. He the set about designing the "Lila" automobiles, named after his wife. Gorham also became a consultant for a young up and coming Japanese industrialist named Yoshisuke Aikawa, owner of Tobata Casting. Gorham would become a major influence on the development of the company, initiating the vast majority of DAT's and Nissans technological advances, and designing most of their cars.

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