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It's back! Nissan to revive the Datsun

EPA

"Datsun is part of our company's heritage," says Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn, "and will now become part of our growth."

After a three-decade absence, Nissan has confirmed it is bringing back the once-familiar Datsun nameplate.  The old name will be used to target some of the newest emerging markets, revealed Nissan Motor Co. CEO Carlos Ghosn.

The maker plans to put a particular premium on using the Datsun name in Indonesia, noted Ghosn during a Tuesday news conference, where it plans to invest $400 million, triple its retail outlets and double its overall employment. 

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But the Datsun name – once familiar in mainstream markets such as the U.S. – will be used in other emerging countries, including India and Russia, according to Ghosn, who said the reborn brand should reappear on the market in 2014.

“Datsun is part of our company’s heritage,” the Brazilian-born executive proclaimed, “and will now become part of our growth.”

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As it began the current fiscal year, last March 31, Ghosn laid out an aggressive growth strategy which calls for the maker to boost its global market share from 5.8% to 8%, while he also outlined a plan to deliver an 8% annual profit margin.

The challenge the Japanese maker faced is how to cover both established and emerging markets without diluting its existing brands.  The Infiniti marque, long a luxury segment laggard, has been on a rapid global expansion campaign.  The mainstream Nissan brand came through last year’s Japanese earthquake and tsunami better than virtually all of its home market competitors, ramping back up to full production capacity months ahead of key rivals Honda and Toyota.

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But Nissan marketers were worried that the automaker might damage the Nissan name were it used to go after first-time buyers in places like Indonesia and Russia.  So, instead, Datsun will be used for products expected to be priced in $5,000 to $6,000 range.

It’s not a unique approach.  General Motors recently introduced the Baojun brand with Chinese partners SAIC and Wuling to go after the same segment of the emerging market.  The maker also has been expanding the presence of the Chevrolet nameplate in Europe by targeting the niche below GM’s German-based Opel brand.

While Nissan didn’t show off any product planned for the Datsun nameplate Ghosn hinted the first offering  will be “a green car, affordable car, small displacement, high local content….”It’s going to be a generous car.”

The new model will be produced at Nissan’s factory in Indonesia, which will use the $400 million infusion to double capacity.

Nissan has been rapidly expanding its presence in emerging markets.  It recently announced plans for a new plant in Brazil, and it plans to serve much of the rest of the Americas with a second plant planned for the central Mexican city of Aguas Calientes.

One of the challenges for the return of the Datsun brand will be building up a brand identity.  The name hasn’t been used since 1981 and it remains to be seen if and how the maker will leverage the well-established Nissan identity to give Datsun a push.