The first new Nissan cars offered in the United States came here in 1958, branded Datsun. Arguably though, the model responsible for imprinting Nissan indelibly on the American road map was the 1968 Fairlady Z, introduced to the United States in 1969 as the Datsun 240Z.
Capturing the basic concept of the Jaguar XK-E in an affordable package, the 240Z was a sleekly styled rear-drive sports car powered by a 2.4-liter overhead cam inline six-cylinder engine. It was good looking, fast, fun to drive, and exceptionally reliable—which was a claim the new European sports cars of the period could not realistically make.
In the 1970’s, the energy crisis of 1973 left Americans quite willing to turn toward smaller more fuel-efficient new cars built in Japan. With the Z out front attracting shoppers into Datsun showrooms, the ‘70s were a very good decade for the company.
In 1981, the decision was made to do away with the Datsun name and market the new models under the Nissan nameplate. Sadly though, around that same time period the lithe little Z started growing longer and fatter with each successive generation of the car. And, while the ultimate culmination of it was the exceptionally wonderful (and seriously pricey) 300ZX GT car of the early 1990s, by the end of that decade, the rest of the new Nissan models were pretty bland.
Showroom traffic slowed to a trickle, the company started bleeding money.
The French manufacturing concern Renault stepped up in 1999. Under the leadership of Carlos Ghosn, things were turned around at Nissan, largely on the strength of Nissan’s VQ-series V6 engine. The best thing about Nissan at the time, Ghosn ordered it bolted into any of the new Nissan models that would hold it—and in the process once again carved out a richly deserved performance-oriented image for Nissan.
The result was a spate of truly memorable high performance new Nissan cars including both the Nissan Altima and the Nissan Maxima. Then, in 2003, after a thirteen-year hiatus, the Nissan Z was reintroduced to the North American lineup as the 2003 Nissan 350Z. The 2007 Nissan GT-R, based on the current Nissan Skyline (sold in the U.S. as the Infiniti G37) was brought to the U.S. as the brand’s halo model in 2007, as a 2008 model.
Today, most new Nissan automobiles are known as strong performing, fun to drive cars. However, the company also became the first mainstream manufacturer to introduce a series production mass-market electric car in 2010, with the introduction of the Nissan LEAF.