In Datsun's early years, the Japanese pioneer found good dealers, lobbied Congress — and fixed oil leaks
Earliest Nissan involvement: 1959
Role: Top Nissan executive in Eastern states. Later, executive vice president of Nissan Motor Corp. U.S.A., 1965-77
Key influence: A key player in developing Nissan's early sales organization in the United States. Helped establish early safety and emissions standards.
“When I arrived at the dealership, there were about five customers waiting with their cars,” Kawazoe says in his unpublished manuscript. “The dealer had only one garage big enough to park one Datsun. There was a hydraulic jack but no tools.”
Although Kawazoe was in charge of all Nissan operations on the East Coast, he didn't hesitate to get his hands dirty. He was one of Nissan's invaluable pioneers in America, a tireless troubleshooter who helped establish the automaker in the world's biggest market.
“I brought one sedan into the garage and asked where the mechanic was,” he writes. “The dealer said he had quit the day before and took all his tools with him. I knew our distributor didn't have first-class dealers, but I didn't know it was this bad.”
The dealer borrowed tools from a nearby service station. Kawazoe removed the transmission with the flywheel housing, disassembled the clutch and watched for the leak.
He found the source — a paper gasket between the engine mounting plate and the cylinder block was wrinkled and torn. The mechanic returned that night, and Kawazoe told him what to do with the rest of the cars.
Starting with Nissan
During the 1930s, Kawazoe learned English at college in Dayton, Ohio. Before World War II, he worked for Ford Motor Co. and General Motors in Japan. In 1959, Nissan sent him to manage its operations in the eastern United States.
Kawazoe told Nissan in Japan that the only way to sell Datsuns in America was to establish its own sales organization. Nissan followed his advice and established Nissan Motor Corp. U.S.A. in September 1960. The company placed Kawazoe in charge of the Eastern Division in Newark, N.J., and Yutaka Katayama in the Western Division in Gardena, Calif. But decision-making remained in Tokyo.
“In those early years, sometimes we were lucky if we sold one car a day,” Kawazoe recalls.
In a 1965 reorganization, Katayama was named president of Nissan Motor Corp. U.S.A., while Kawazoe became executive vice president.
Active in Washington
With his command of English, sense of humor and engineering knowledge, Kawazoe became Nissan's official representative before the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and other governmental bodies that were developing safety standards and emissions regulations.
“Kawazoe would coordinate the industry's positions on some of these developing regulations,” says industry lobbyist Bill Duncan, who worked with the Nissan executive in Washington. “He was a very straightforward speaker; there was no doubt as to what he thought.
“He got along with Americans extremely well. He was a very good leader for the industry.”
Kawazoe retired in March 1977 and died in 2003 at age 95.
“Dealers loved him,” says Tom Nemet, owner of the Nemet Auto Group in the New York borough of Queens. “He understood our mentality; he understood what it would take for Nissan to be successful in the United States. He never got the proper credit for what he did here.”