Datsun of a gun!


I know two guys who are named Datsun. One is a cousin of a dear buddy of mine and the other is a guy who – the last time I met him - worked for a private airline that’s been in serious trouble lately. Why did their parents name them Datsun? Perhaps it sounded good, perhaps the attributes of Datsun cars could also have been a factor. But that’s not important for now. What’s important is that the Datsun brand is making a comeback – it was an idea that was being toyed with, but now looks likely to become reality. Datsun? What’s that?

I am in my early 40s and even for me, the brand is a distant memory, so if you are half my age, the name Datsun probably wouldn’t mean much to you. But listen up, read carefully and pay attention: this brand will have much more significance for us within the next two years.

According to a news report which does not quote any official sources (you can see it elsewhere on the site), the Datsun brand is going to be reintroduced by Nissan for emerging markets like India beginning 2014. The cars that will be branded Datsun will not have the baggage and the associated costs that a Nissan car will have. Datsuns, if I understand the impact of the news report, will be cheap, affordable cars engineered for our market. So a Nano competitor – which shouldn’t ideally be called a Nissan as it could potentially cheapen the brand – will wear the Datsun nameplate. These cars will not have stuff that you’d expect Nissans to have – like start/stop buttons, keyless entry and why, even airbags and ABS – so they cannot wear the premium Nissan badge. They will not meet the quality standards you’d expect a Nissan to match, which is why this potential move by Nissan.

The point of this blog is not to comment whether it is a right or wrong move, but to reinforce that the nameplate is a hallowed one. And let me tell you this, those parents seemed to know what was good by giving their sons that peculiar name.

You can go to other sites to know the interesting history of the brand. What I would like to add is that Nissan was nothing till it replaced Datsun in the 1980s. In the post-WWII years, the Datsun name adorned some affordable, decent quality, tough-as-nails but fun-to-drive cars. Datsuns were always sporty. They were not bad looking either. They offered incredible value to their buyers. Despite tough competition in the US, Datsuns proved themselves worthy to their customers. Not just sporty sedans, but the Datsun badge was seen on the legendary 240Z (yes, the father of Nissan’s Z cars) and it also kick-started a new category in the US – the compact pick-up truck. Which incidentally was also fun to drive! And needless to say, Datsun cars have a fantastic motorsport heritage.

The story of Datsun is not complete without the mention of Mr K, the legendary Yutaka Katayama – read about him and Datsun on a previous blog of mine; it’s goosebump-inducing stuff. K for King

And if you read that carefully, you’ll see that Mr K had asked Carlos Ghosn to bring back the Datsun brand when ‘Le Cost Killer’ took charge of a teetering Nissan. Now, over a decade later, it’s time for Mr K’s request to come true. If he were alive now, he would be a very happy man.

So how relevant is the Datsun brand for a young India now? Datsun was famous because it was a brand that many expats would have been familiar with in the Gulf. Datsuns had a little more character than the Toyotas of that era and appealed to a younger, fashionable audience. This, without sacrificing on the Japanese attributes of superb engineering, reliability and efficiency. Well, even that name had something sporty about it. The only hope I have is that the forthcoming Datsun cars will be, in Mr K’s words, “...a pleasure to drive and own.” By the way, I haven’t met anyone named Nissan yet!