Nissan revived the Datsun name as a low-cost brand for developing countries, but it has been axed for the second time in 91 years – after being reborn in 2013.
Nissan’s budget brand Datsun has been axed for the second time in its 91-year history, with the last car rolling off the assembly line in India amid little fanfare and away from the prying eyes of the media.
Datsun cars were originally sold from 1931 to 1986 – including in Australia from 1960 to 1985 – before the company streamlined all models under the Nissan badge globally.
After a 27-year hiatus, the Datsun name was revived by Nissan in 2013 as a low-cost brand for emerging markets.
Three models – two hatchbacks and a wagon – were based on older Nissan cars but had unique bodies and only basic features.
Sales did not meet expectations after the cars were marketed as being cheap in regions where vehicle ownership was aspirational.
The reborn Datsun models were also slammed for having poor crash protection, after scoring a “zero’” star safety rating in crash tests.
Datsun factories in Indonesia and Russia were closed in 2020 as part of Nissan’s global restructure to discontinue loss-making parts of its business.
According to a report by Autocar magazine in India, production of the Datsun Go hatchback and Datsun Go+ wagon ended last year.
The final model – the Datsun Redigo city hatch – reportedly went out of production earlier this year.
A statement issued by Nissan and published by Autocar magazine in India said: “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.”
When the former global boss of Nissan-Renault, Carlos Ghosn, announced plans to revive the Datsun name, he forecast the company would increase its market share in India of Nissan and Datsun models combined from 1.2 per cent to 10 per cent of the total new-car market, according to a report in India’s Economic Times.
However, Nissan and Datsun never got close to that target, together or separately.
Compared to the dominance of Suzuki cars in India – which had 42 per cent market share at last count – the Datsun brand delivered just 4296 vehicles in India (a minuscule market share of just 0.09 per cent), according to data published by Autocar India.
Before Datsun was phased out in 1986 – for the first time – it was sold in 190 countries, including in Australia from the 1960s to the 1980s.
Industry analysts said Datsun’s “no frills” approach could have contributed to its undoing, given that a new car is regarded as a luxury item in developing countries.
Furthermore, the revival of the Datsun name would likely have been more successful had Nissan applied it to the budget-priced, rear-drive sports-car it floated as an idea in 2013.
The Nissan IDx Nismo concept (pictured below) – inspired by the iconic Datsun 1600 from the late 1960s and early 1970s – was intended to become an affordable rival to the Toyota 86 coupe.
However, the Nissan IDx Nismo never made it into production as a Datsun or a Nissan because it was deemed prohibitively expensive to develop.
News agency Reuters quoted an insider who explained that, although Datsun sales were relatively small, it nevertheless took sales away from more profitable Nissan vehicles.
“In Indonesia, for example, after a relatively good start, Datsun cars soon began eating into Nissan sales,” the Reuters news agency reported.
“(Nissan-Datsun) ended up pushing two mainstream brands in a market where you have a one or two percent market share. You cannot do that,” a source quoted by Reuters told the news outlet.
Representatives for Datsun in India told local media only dealer stock remains, as production of all models has now ended.
Joshua Dowling has been a motoring journalist for more than 20 years, spending most of that time working for The Sydney Morning Herald (as motoring editor and one of the early members of the Drive team) and News Corp Australia. He joined CarAdvice / Drive in late 2018, and has been a World Car of the Year judge for 10 years.