The Man Who Introduced Nissan to the US Market Dies at 81

Nobushige Wakatsuki, the man credited with the arrival of the Japanese car brand onto the US car market, passed away on November 13, and while he worked for Nissan only briefly, he will remain in the history books of the Japanese carmaker’s endeavor. But the history of it all isn’t quite as straightforward and successful as you might think first hand.

During the mid 1950s Wakatsuki worked as a young manager for the Japanese trading firm Marubeni Corp. Nobushige Wakatsuki came with the idea to introduce the Nissan brand to the US market, but this didn’t please Nissan’s managers at all.

However the persevering 29-year old manager didn’t forsake his idea and consistently lobbied for it within the Japanese management board, despite receiving an official “No” from them, this earning him the nickname “Crazy Nobe”.

His role in bringing the Japanese brand in the US was crucial after he was refused in 1957 by Nissan’s management board, but went ahead with his own marketing efforts, deceiving the automaker in shipping some Nissan cars in California.

When I would try to talk to people at Nissan about selling cars in the United States, they would look at each other and then get up and leave the room,” Wakatsuki told Automotive News in 2008 about his efforts with the Nissan board of managers. “They thought I was crazy. They told me I didn't know what I was talking about. It was very humiliating to me.”

The irony in the story resides in the fact that Nissan was really helped by its arrival on US soil, which worked for them in terms of sales, brand image and strategic development. While Toyota entered the US car market in 1957, therefore ahead of domestic rival carmaker Nissan, the Americans didn’t really have enough knowledge and feedback about Japanese built cars.

After bringing the first Nissan cars to the States, Nobushige Wakatsuki continued to work on building up commercial relations with US car dealers and as a result retails began in 1958 under Marubeni.

Later, “Crazy Nobe” focused his attention on launching an ethanol fuel plant in Minnesota, but being unsuccessful he returned to Japan, where he lived until his death.
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