Newspaper article International New York Times

Yutaka Katayama, Father of the Datsun 'Z,' Dies at 105

Newspaper article International New York Times

Yutaka Katayama, Father of the Datsun 'Z,' Dies at 105

Article excerpt

In 1960, Mr. Katayama was sent to California to promote the Datsun 240Z, which mesmerized drivers and helped him set up a nationwide network of dealers.

To judge from the public frenzy it aroused, the "Z" might well have stood for "Zowie!"

The 240Z, a sleek two-door sports car that made its United States debut in 1969, unleashed an acquisitive tempest. In the process, it proved that a Japanese automaker -- Nissan, or Datsun, as the brand was then known in America -- could succeed in the United States.

Yutaka Katayama, a retired Nissan executive who died on Thursday at 105, was widely considered the father of the Z. By dint of promoting it in America, he was credited with almost single- handedly establishing Nissan's secure foothold in the United States.

With the Z, "Datsun would change the auto industry's perception of Japanese cars," The New York Times wrote in 2008.

An ebullient, adventurous man familiarly known as Mr. K., Mr. Katayama was the first president of Nissan Motor Corporation U.S.A. He had arrived in the country in 1960, a time when the label "Made in Japan" on any consumer product was associated in the American mind with slipshod construction.

By the time he retired in 1977, Mr. Katayama had built a nationwide network of dealers and promoted two highly successful models: the Datsun 510 sedan, first marketed in the United States in 1967, followed by the dazzling Z.

His work is chronicled in "The Reckoning," David Halberstam's 1986 book about the auto industry.

The son of a well-to-do businessman, Mr. Katayama was born Yutaka Asoh in Shizuoka Prefecture, on Japan's south coast, on Sept. 15, 1909. (On his marriage in the 1930s to Masako Katayama, whose family had no sons, he took her surname.) In 1935, after graduating from Keio University, the young Mr. Katayama joined Nissan, working in its advertising and publicity departments.

In a time and place when corporate culture mandated conformity, Mr. Katayama's maverick approach to business often antagonized his superiors. In 1960, seeking to punish him, Nissan executives transferred him to the worst Siberia they knew: Southern California.

Placed in charge of Nissan's Western United States operations, Mr. …

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