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In 1914, the Kwaishinsha Motorcar Works, established three years earlier, in Azabu-Hiroo District in Tokyo, built the first DAT. The new car's name being the acronym of the company's partners' surnames:
• Kenjiro Den
• Rokuro Aoyama
• Meitaro Takeuchi
The Works was renamed to Kwaishinsha Motorcar Co. in 1918, and again, in 1925, to DAT Motorcar Co.
The next year, the Tokyo-based company merged with the Osaka-based Jitsuyo Jidosha Co., Ltd. (established 1919) as DAT Automobile Manufacturing Co. Ltd. in Osaka until 1932.
In 1931, the first DATSON—meaning "Son of DAT"—was produced. However, the last syllable was changed to "sun", because "son" also means "loss" in Japanese.
In 1933, the company name was Nipponized to Jidosha-Seizo Co. Ltd. and moved to Yokohama. In 1934, Jidosha-Seizo merged with a fellow Japanese automanufacturer named Nihon Sangyo Co. Ltd. ("Japan Industry Co. Ltd.") who was popularly known as "Ni-San."
The company became Nissan Motor Co., Ltd. on June 1, 1934, and was founded by Yoshisuke Aikawa.
For two years (1947 to 1948) the company was briefly called Nissan Heavy Industries Corp.
Like Hino and Isuzu, but unlike Toyota, Nissan partnered with a European company to gain access to automobile and engine designs. Nissan chose Austin of the United Kingdom, which later became the British Motor Corporation. Nissan began building Austin 7s in 1930, though the legitimacy of their license is debated. The company soon began producing a variety of Austin-derived models like the original Austin A50-based Datsun 1000. These designs were apparently covered by a 1952-1960 license agreement between the companies. After the Nissan introduced its own models in the 1950s, they continued to develop their own engine designs past what the Austin's A- and B-family designs offered.
In 1967 introduced its new highly advanced four cylinder overhead cam (OHC) Nissan L engine, which while similar to Mercedes OHC designs was a totally new engine designed by Nissan. This engine powered the new Datsun 510, which gained Nissan respect in the worldwide sedan market. Then, in 1970 Nissan introduced the 240Z sports car which used a six-cylinder variation of the L series engine. The 240z was an immediate sensation and lifted Nissan to world class status in the automobile market.
In 1966, Nissan merged with the Prince Motor Company, bringing into its range more upmarket cars, including the Skyline and Gloria. The Prince name was eventually abandoned, with successive Skylines and Glorias bearing the Nissan name - however, "Prince" is still used in names of certain Nissan dealers in Japan. Nissan would introduce a new luxury brand for the US market in the late 1980s called Infiniti.
In the wake of the fuel crisis, Nissan became one of the world's largest exporters of automobiles and set up new factories in Mexico and Australia.
The firm established assembly operations in the United States in the early 1980s, with a plant in Smyrna, Tennessee. This facility at first built only trucks, but has since been expanded to produce several car lines. An engine plant in Decherd, Tennessee followed, and most recently a second assembly plant in Canton, Mississippi. A plant in Sunderland, UK was added in the mid-1980s as the subsidiary Nissan Motor Manufacturing (UK) Ltd.
However, financial difficulties in Australia in the late 1980s caused Nissan to cease production there.
Nissan also produces cars at its factory near Pretoria, South Africa.