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Tuesday 28th March
Top Gear Advice

The beginner’s guide to Nissan

It’s been a long and winding road... but at least there’s the GT-R to drive down it

  • Who’s Nissan, and when did it start making cars?

    Who’s Nissan, and when did it start making cars?

    Nissan is actually much older than you think – even if the Nissan name didn’t come along until much later. We’ll explain as best we can, but we recommend you get a coffee first.

    The company that we call Nissan today started off in 1911, and, after many mergers, acquisitions and so on, had more names over the first few decades than the Sámi have for snow.

    In 1928, a Yoshisuke Aikawa founded a holding company called Nihon Sangyo, which roughly translates as Japan Industries. Also, if you take the first syllable of each word, you get Ni San. So now you know where Nissan comes from.

    In 1931, DAT became a subsidiary of another of Aikawa’s companies, Tobata Casting. DAT had made a car called, imaginatively enough, the Dat Car, then a smaller car called the Datson – as in the smaller, son of Dat. In 1932, DAT became Datsun. Not, as you’ll notice, Datson – ‘son’ sounds like the word for loss or disadvantage in Japanese. So that’s a fair call.

    At this point, Aikawa owned Tobata Casting, Datsun, and Ni(hon) San(gyo)... and so created yet another company called Jidosha Seizo Co in late 1933, which became the Nissan Motor Company in 1934. So the first actual Nissans were built in late 1934 and sold in 1935. And they were badged as Datsuns. Because logic.

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  • Where are Nissans built, and how many does Nissan build a year?

    Where are Nissans built, and how many does Nissan build a year?

    Well, a bunch of places, but then you kind of already guessed as much – given there’s a fair chance that there’s at least one Nissan factory in your country. Some 48.5 per cent of the 3.4 million cars Nissan built last year, however, came from factories in Japan, North America and Europe, so they’re really the production powerhouses.

    Interestingly enough, Nissan’s North American factories produce more than twice as many vehicles as Japan, and more than three times as many as Europe.

  • What cars does Nissan build?

    What cars does Nissan build?

    Many. So very many. Even without including the commercial vehicles, you’re looking at somewhere around 30 different cars, including standalone models for specific markets like China. So while you’ll know the Z, GT-R, Micra, Qashqai, X-Trail (or Rogue, if you will), Patrol and so on, you might be less familiar with the Note, Kicks or Sakura.

    Not all of them sold where you are, of course, but it’s worth betting at least a few are.

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  • What’s the cheapest car Nissan builds... and what’s the most expensive it builds?

    What’s the cheapest car Nissan builds... and what’s the most expensive it builds?

    The cheapest Nissan you can get rather depends on whereabouts in the world you are. But in absolute terms, you’re likely looking at a little Kei car called the Nissan Dayz. Technically, it’s a rebadged Mitsubishi eK, but a) Nissan now owns Mitsubishi, and b) it’s been built for the past 10 years or so by a joint venture between Mitsu and Nissan called NMKV. So we’d say it counts.

    As for the most expensive, the GT-R50 would probably like to throw its hat into the ring. But for a production model, the ‘regular’ GT-R is going to be your best bet – as pricey as Patrols can get.

  • What’s the fastest car Nissan builds?

    What’s the fastest car Nissan builds?

    Easy: the GT-R50. Next step down is the GT-R Nismo Track Edition, followed by the – and we’re going to use it again – ‘regular’ GT-R. Even after 15 years, it is still a heroically quick thing.

  • What’s been Nissan’s best moment?

    What’s been Nissan’s best moment?

    There are a couple on the shortlist – when Nissan went from near-bankruptcy in 1999 to one of the most profitable carmakers by 2002. Or when it set up shop in America and became an absolute manufacturing powerhouse. Or when the R32 GT-R mopped the floor with all-comers, earning the name ‘Godzilla’.

    But we have perhaps a more controversial nomination: the Nissan Leaf. We doubt a single person reading this would put the Leaf in their top 100 cars, yet it’s probably one of the boldest cars launched in our lifetimes. To see where the car world is now and think that Nissan was already on the ball in 2010... even for a company that made the GT-R, that’s canny.

    While Tesla might have sold people on electric vehicles, the Leaf was the one they bought. It was electric power for the people – and it arrived 18 months before the very first Tesla Model S.

  • What’s been Nissan’s worst moment?

    What’s been Nissan’s worst moment?

    Well, when a company’s CEO and Chairman is arrested for alleged financial misconduct, that’s never a good sign. When it turns out the now ex-CEO and former Chairman evaded the authorities, was smuggled out of the country in a musician’s road case and is now the subject of an Interpol red notice, that’s likely worse.

    Then again, this isn’t Nissan’s first rodeo – after Japan’s surrender and the end of World War II, Nissan’s founder, Yoshisuke Aikawa, was held for nearly two years for suspected ‘crimes against peace’ in Manchuria.

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  • What's Nissan’s most surprising moment?

    What's Nissan’s most surprising moment?

    This one absolutely has to go to its turnaround at the turn of the millennium. Nissan was heavily in debt and losing money hand over fist – and doing so during the whopping hangover from the Japanese Economic Miracle. There was a fair bit of armchair expertise at the time that suggested the decline was terminal.

    To go from that state of affairs to profitable, then debt-free, then properly successful – in the space of three years – is the kind of thing to make an Economist writer tumescent. We’ll just stick to regular appreciation, thanks.

  • What's the best concept Nissan built?

    What's the best concept Nissan built?

    That’s actually a pretty difficult choice. Nissan, unlike Alpine, Lotus and so on, has a long history of concept cars made purely for show, as well as great ideas that almost made it.

    Even among that long list, however, our vote goes to the MID4. It’s a rather literally named thing, given it’s mid-engined and four-wheel-drive, but it’s also the moment where Nissan showed the formula that’d become synonymous with its name... at least in our circles.

    That formula, in case so much wasn’t already blindingly obvious, is a turbocharged six-cylinder engine, incredibly complicated all-wheel-drive and giant-killing performance. Just ask Jim Richards and Mark Skaife...

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  • Tell me an interesting fact about Nissan.

    Tell me an interesting fact about Nissan.

    You know how the Skyline is pretty much Nissan’s most-famous road car? Well, that’s a bit of an Alanis Morrissette-ism – the Skyline was actually a luxury car built and sold by the Prince Motor Company.

    And not just a few cars, either – Prince designed three separate generations of Skyline and put its crest on two. Nissan’s buyout in 1966 meant the Prince name was gone by the third-gen Skyline. But at least the GT-R name is all Nissan, even if the Skyline name – and indeed much of the engineering in the original GT-R – isn’t.

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