Looking into the evolution of Nissan’s automotive engines and the footprint of the company
Nissan seems to be facing a sort of management challenges lately, but it’s sure to be playing a significant role in the Japanese automobile industry. In particular, Nissan is regarded to lead the advancement of automobile technology industry in history. In this mind, I visited the Nissan’s “Engine Museum” in Yokohama recently because I’ve heard there’s an unique museum showing the technological challenges of automobile, especially on their engines. The museum was said to be opened in 2003 in commemorating the establishment of Nissan’s first assembly factory “Yokohama Plant” in 1934 using its former headquarter building. There are many historical automobile engines exhibited in the museum with extensive commentary on their technology development process, as well as on the company history. And there installed many photographs and panels which indicates the technology foundation and development of Nissan Motors. Then, the visitors can easily trace the company’s turbulent footprints that had experienced countless technological challenges along with long history of the company. The exhibition seems to be quite instructive to understand the historical development of Japan’s automobile industry as a whole not only for the Nissan itself.
♣ Overview of Engine Museum Exhibition
The museum main subject is the Nissan’s automobile production technology, especially on the development of engine technology, but also, focuses the history of the company development itself.
In the engine exhibition corner, it displays many valuable historic engines in row from the early “7-type engine” (1935), new type engines in 80s, energy saving diesel engines in 90s, to the currently developing variety of EV engines. Nearly 30 types of Nissan engines are exhibited there with detailed explanations. In particular, the new EV engines are proudly exhibited with providing real cut models which s suggest Nissan’s decisive commitment to the development of EV engines from an early stage. The exhibition also shows how the engine is performed, what’s internal structure they have, how steering, and suspension works in the vehicles, etc., too. In addition, they demonstrate the recent functional engines which produced by under the unique concept by Nissan.
In the history corner, the museum displays the Nissan’s company history since the establishment of original firms in 1910s and the historical background that was gradually evolved to the latest Nissan Motors, along with the transforming scene of Yokohama factory itself, by putting lots of photographs, chronology and panels, It seems to be also valuable for reviewing Japanese automobile history as well. Furthermore, in the entrance hall, Nissan’s historic model car “Datsun” is exhibited as memorial figures, in addition to the latest model of the advanced which shows its EV car “Leaf” current challenges. They seem to indicate Nissan’s strong commitment of automobile technology as well as long engagement to the automobile businesses.
♣ History of Nissan Motor Co. that conveys a footprint of Japanese automobile industry
Nissan Motor was actually founded in the 1930s, but its prehistory can be traced back to the decades ago. The automobile industry in Japan was said to be started by making a simple cart-like car “Tackley” by Yamaha Torao in 1907. And in 1911, Hashimoto Masujiro manufactured his own car “Swift” using imported car parts from UK at his newly established company “Kaishin Sha”, and consequently produced “Dat No.1”at his factory. This is believed to be the original firms of later Nissan Motors.
However, the production and technical level of Japanese makers were quite poor at that time, in this circumstances, Ford and GM had aggressively entered Japanese market and fully monopolized the car production throughout in 1930s. The Japanese industrialists who were worried about this situation wanted to establish automobile solid foundation in Japan. Among those, a businessman Ayukawa Gisuke acquired “Dat Automobile”, which had changed name from the “Kaishin-sha”, and launched “Datsun Motor Co.” in 1932. Afterward this company merged with “Ishikawajima Co. (later IHI)” and formed “Automobile Mfg Co.”. Then finally this company was transformed its management and officially founded as “Nissan Motor Co.” in 1934. The Nissan’s “Yokohama Plant”, where I visited, was built as its main automobile assembling plant in 1935.
In this way, the born of Nissan Motor was proceeded under the somewhat complicated process, but the Museum described well the history in detail by the panels displayed in the hall. In the meantime, the government began to take strong initiatives to foster domestic car makers by enacting the “Automobile Manufacturing Business Law (1936)” because they were worrying about the dominant position of US companies in Japan. Reflecting to this trend, Toyota entered car production, and Nissan has also launched full-scale car production.
The particular important matter was that the government began to order lots of military trucks to major Japanese manufacturers in order to activate domestic production and technological innovation in automobile production. In addition, the particularly important matters were said to be the engineering capability nurtured in this period. That is, the engineers who were engaged in designing of military aircraft and truck engines during this period had contributed of building post-War automobile industry by effectively applied their acquired technology and skills. This movements are thought to have certainly played an important role to build the technical foundation for leading the strong development of automobile production in Japan as a whole. Nissan has also grown up as one of the main manufacturers in this movement. This development history process is detailed in the exhibition.
♣ Development of Nissan Motor before and after the War
In the post-war period, the Japanese automobile industry has been rapidly reviving thanks to the special procurement from the Korean War, and Japanese automobile companies actively carried out the large-scale renewal of plants and mechanical modernization. In addition, around the 1950s, the government strongly urged the domestic manufacturers to apply advance technology from the Europe and US automakers aiming to upgrade automobile industries as recognizing their technology was still immature.
Responding to this policy, Nissan practiced a technical tie-up with Austin (Isuzu for Hillman, Hino for Renault, Toyota gone for its own line), and actively pursued the line of improvement of facilities, innovation of production system, and scale up of the production plants. Then, later in 1960, Nissan absorbed the “Minsei Diesel”. and merged additionally with a main passenger car maker “Prince Automobile” in 1966. Since then the company became called the current Nissan Motors. During around this period in general, it was reported that the automobile industry of Japan was able to achieve the significant improve in quality by introducing American-style quality control and scientific management methods. Meantime in 1961, Nissan established a full-fledged passenger car production plant “Nissan Oppama Factory”. Number of passenger cars such as Blue Bird (1962-), Sunny (1973-), and luxury cars Cedric (1987-) were born there, which were valuated as prestigious cars in the market, were introduced one after another. The exhibition provides a detailed explanation of this consecutive process from the strengthening of Nissan’s production system to the further the evolution of its technological advancement in this period. It seems to convey some parts of the development history of rising automobile industry in Japan as well.
<Management challenges for Nissan Motors>
However, due to the failure of the marketing strategy in addition to the collapse of the economic bubble around 1990, Nissan’s management crisis abruptly came to be appeared, and the company has to seek the management alliance with Renault since 1990s. After that severe restructuring policies were taken by hand of Renault President Ghosn (“Nissan Survival Plan”). As a result, the finance condition was improved quickly, but the production system itself was greatly downsized, However, in the 2000s, utilizing the recovering financial situation, the company began to take vigorous measures to expand production system, and adopted the promotion policy of EV cars with applying the previously accumulated technological ingenuity. However, the negative side of the Ghosn management was emerging in the late 2010s, and it can say that the company’s foundation began to be shaken again since this period.
Nevertheless, the Nissan’s immovable posture of strong technology commitment seems to be persistent and again began to challenge new areas of automobile making now as shown in the electric vehicles, for example. Nissan’s new challenge to advancing “electric cars” and “autonomous driving” technology is well indicated in the exhibition. It would be particularly outstanding features under the latest circumstances that the automobile world is shifting fast and steadily to the environment friendly and safety conscious automobile making. The exhibitions don’t touch much about the recent management crisis period, but the strong commitment to the technological advancement was well informed.
♣ Nissan engine’s advanced features and EV car initiatives
As I mentioned earlier, the Nissan’s real automobile engines are displayed with broadly covered in the Museum exhibition hall along the line of producing years reflecting the evolution of engine technology. First, we can see the “7-inch” engine produced by “Dat Automobile Mfg.” in 1935 which was said to be a quite innovative at that time though the capacity was rather small like 700cc and structurally simple. After the War, Nissan firstly produced the “C-type” engine (1953). This was an approximately 1000cc capacity with an OHV system produced in a technology alliance with Austin in the UK.
The first “Sunny” car was equipped with the “A10 type” (in 1960s), and the engine “U20 type” was installed in the sports car “Fairlady”. We can closely observe them in the exhibition with detailed explanation. And the next is the small diesel engine “CD20 type” installed in the FF vehicle. This is the Japan’s first V6 engine “VG30DETT type” (1983). Looking at these, they can testify how quickly the quality of engines have improved from the stage of the imported technology to purely domestic technology, and how capacity and performance have also greatly improved in this period. When it comes in the 1990s, racing cars engines, such as the “VRH35” engine (1992) and “VRH50” (1999) which had used in the Le Mans Race, well demonstrated powerful turbo functions in running. Regarding the engines of small vehicles, “HR12DDR type” mounted on “Nissan Note”, diesel engine “M9R type” which jointly developed with Renault, etc. have become newly introduced in this period too.
However, the highlight would be the new engine of the recent EV “Nissan Leaf”. The detailed explanation about its performance and feature is available at the special exhibition corner too. The visitors can be convinced in the exhibition that Nissan is still standing at the forefront position of engine development in Japan, even though there exists some management stumbling in the firm, Especially, Nissan’s efforts seem to be worth to take attention while the automobile industry is now shifting from gasoline to electricity now.
♥ After visit
Formally, the museum was built to train the Nissan’s industrial engineers and has been collecting automobile parts and engines for this purpose since around 1978. But when Nissan’s Yokohama factory set up the new Guest Hall, the facility was reformed as a museum in 2003 to demonstrate Nissan’s long technology development history using the headquarter office. It is said that the museum now preserves over 180 units of classic engines, including prototype, motor sport engines and aircraft engines. It is precious that historically valuable internal combustion engines are entirely gathered here. We can see there the outstanding structure and feature changes of the internal combustion engines by our own eyes, And, we can be inspired to see how EV engines are currently evolving and its related technology is advancing.
In recent years, automobiles are facing radical shift of environment, like energy issues, safety measures, digitization affairs and AI advancement. Then, it is interesting to think of how the automotive engines, which are the heart of automobiles, will be changing its figures in the future. Also, in terms of corporate history, it would be valuable to see the founding background, transformation, evolution and rise and fall of the big company like Nissan Motor in the its Yokohama factory, which is designated as a historical heritage.
The other day, I went to the “Tokyo Motor Show” held in Harumi, Tokyo. There I felt a new air blown in the automobile industry, and I was much curious about how Nissan’s future technological efforts will be going as well as the company management. In this sense, this Nissan Engine Museum visit has given me a valuable record.
- 「日本自動車史」佐々木烈 （三樹書房）
- 日産横浜工場｜工場の紹介｜ようこそ、日産の工場へhttps://www.nissan-global.com › ENGINEMUSEUM
- 日本国内の自動車博物館10選｜ https://car-moby.jp/163833
- ⽇産エンジン博物館 https://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/⽇産エンジン博物
- ⽇産⾃動⾞横浜⼯場 https://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/⽇産⾃動⾞横浜工場
- ⽇産のエンジンの歴史を⾒てみよう︕ダットサンから… https://cargeek.jp/12368
- ⽇産⾃動⾞の経営戦略失敗 https://management-strategy.net/NISSAN/