Ever wonder how Nissan learned to sell cars in America? It hired ex-Detroiters such as Chuck King.
Earliest Nissan involvement: 1972
Role: Head of sales and marketing
Key influence: Taking lessons from a career at Chrysler, King strengthened Nissan's dealership network and tripled U.S. sales.
His first crisis arrived on the docks in Seattle. As he later told the Los Angeles Times, a boatload of Datsuns showed up — orange, yellow, red and green ones, all with bright blue interiors.
King flew there to see for himself. A Nissan official said Tokyo had shipped what it meant to. The blue seats could not be changed.
So King had a sample of the cars shipped to California, where he lined them up in front of Nissan headquarters in Carson. He invited the company's top Japanese executives downstairs to see them. In a group, the cars looked even chintzier than they had individually.
The executives, convinced, ordered the interiors changed.
King, straightforward and demanding, did whatever it took to get a job done. He was one of many Detroit refugees who bridged the cultural gap between Japan and the United States and taught Nissan how to sell cars in America.
Along the way in his 15-year Nissan career, he tripled Datsun sales in the United States, expanded the dealership network and was part of the team that presided over the rocky brand-name shift from Datsun to Nissan.
King, a baseball star at Cal State Fullerton who had turned down professional offers, was in there pitching until the end. Just a month before he left Nissan in 1987, he was behind the hiring of Chiat/Day as the automaker's ad agency and presided over the study team for the launch of the Infiniti Division.
King's departure was announced as an “early retirement,” but insiders said he just got fed up. A management shake-up that strengthened Tokyo's influence in U.S. operations was the last straw.
No matter. King, who died in 2007 at age 77, helped Nissan plant deep roots in America.
You can reach Jeff Mortimer at (Unknown address).