When Nissan opened its first U.S. sales office in 1960, the 18-person staff had one mission: find dealers — and it didn't matter who.
“Nissan in Japan was not knowledgeable enough about the U.S. market to place restrictions or requirements on how we developed the dealer network in the USA. We had to find ways by ourselves,” said Masataka Usami, who founded the first U.S. Datsun parts department and later became vice president for service and technical engineering.
Into that scene stepped William Cushing in 1961 when he was named sales manager for Datsun's San Francisco region. Cushing worked out of his home. His wife was his secretary.
According to John Rae's 1982 book Nissan/Datsun: A History of Nissan Motor Corporation in USA 1960-1980, Cushing found 12 dealers in the San Francisco region. He regarded only one as a true dealer, Winter Motors Co., of Sacramento.
The rest soon dropped out, and Cushing began rebuilding his roster. He went after Volvo dealers because — as Cushing told Rae in a 1979 interview — Volvo offered high-quality vehicles in a different price range than Datsun. But most important, Volvo didn't have a pickup. That was Datsun's strong suit.
A 1962 Nissan survey found that 45 percent of Datsuns sold in the United States that year were pickups.
Cushing soon had at least a dozen Volvo dealers in the San Francisco area selling Datsuns. According to Rae: “He avoided dealers in American automobiles because he wanted the little-known Datsun to be clearly recognized as an import car.”