Remembering Yutaka Katayama (1909 – 2015)

Mr. K put together the key concepts for the Datsun Z-car
Mr. K put together the key concepts for the Datsun Z-car

Nissan legend Yutaka Katayama, the man known as “Mr. K,” has died at the age of 105. Katayama, the first president of Nissan Motor Corporation U.S.A, passed away on February 20, 2015.

Katayama ran Nissan’s U.S. operations in the 1970s and is widely known as the father of the Datsun Z, the world-class affordable sports car. He retired from Nissan in 1977.

Nissan’s statement: “Yutaka Katayama (Mr. ‘K’) was a passionate ambassador for the Datsun and Nissan brands and our condolences go out to his family and friends. His more than 80 years in the car business included an induction into both the American and Japanese Automotive Hall of Fames. He was a pioneer on both sides of the Pacific, and we are grateful for his service to Nissan and his passion for our brands.”

Born in September 1909, in what is now Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, Mr. K joined the company in 1935 and was assigned to the Administration Department, first handling publicity and then advertising. He made one of the first color films of a Datsun on Japanese roads and later filmed motor sport races across the globe, raising the bar for decades of visual story telling ahead.

With a love of cars and a flare for promotion, he built the Datsun brand, Nissan’s initial brand name in the U.S., from scratch. He had first visited the U.S. as an assistant on a high-speed vessel carrying raw silk in 1927 while a student at Keio University.

In his storied career, he was team manager as two Datsun 210s were entered in a grueling rally circumnavigating the Australian continent. The subsequent victory instantly catapulted the brand into worldwide renown and set the stage for Datsun exports.

Notably, he put together the key concepts for the Z-car, contributing significantly to the birth of an exceptional sports car still revered by driving enthusiasts.

Retiring in 1977, he was later inducted into the American Automotive Hall of Fame in 1998 for ushering in a generation of vehicles that redefined the American car market, as well as the Japan Automotive Hall of Fame for pioneering deeds on both sides of the Pacific. Among other key achievements, Katayama promoted the first All-Japan Motor Show in 1954, as well as laid the foundations for Nissan North America.

In September 2014, Katayama granted a rare three-part interview with the Nissan Global Media Center in which he reflects on nearly 80 years in the car business.

Yutaka Katayama Interview – Part One

Yutaka Katayama Interview – Part Two

Yutaka Katayama Interview – Part Three

[Source: Nissan]

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  1. Mr. K created the Datsun/Nissan presence in the US, recognizing the California passion for small, reliable and fun pickup trucks, and expanded it to the Datsun sedans. He sensed a need for a sports car that would be reliable and fun as well, and drove the effort in Japan to bring the 1600 to the west coast. He recognized that the successor had to be a unique car that did everything right, and laid out the specifications for the Z. His constant promotion of the brand, his devotion to his dealers and his passion for getting it right built the ‘division’ into a nationwide network. As he said many times: Enjoy the ride! We in the Z car community will miss him.

  2. An amazing man, one of the foresights he had was to hire Guigaro to design the 510 and the 240z. He realized japanese design skills were lacking. Under his tutelage Datsun Competition became a reality and Datsun was off racing in a grand way, beating 2.0 liter Alfas w a 1.6 liter engine among other accomplishments.

  3. I think it was 1969 or 1970 that I met Mr K. We were at Road America and he came to see his two little 510’s battle the Alfas and BMW’s. I worked at a Datsun dealership in Appleton at the time and we were honored to host the BRE team where they prepared the entries. We set up a tent out side of corner five at RA. It was a very formal with hostesses dressed in traditional Japanese kimonos. This was I think Mr K’s first visit to the USA. I recall standing with my wife and Mr K watching the cars come down into corner five and pass in front of us. It was quite a moment, just the three of us. I gestured to Mr K if he would like something to drink, to which he replied Budweiser. That broke the ice. We had a wonderful time with him afterwards. Over the years we received several Christmas cards from him. He truly was a shaker in the car trade. I heared a story that he knew Carrol Shelby and advised ol Shel in the design set up of the Cobra. But that’s another story, we will miss him.