Mr. K told him that owning a Datsun dealership would make him a millionaire. He was right.
Earliest Nissan involvement: 1970
Role: Owns Universal City Nissan in North Hollywood, Calif.
Key influence: Sage and other risk-taking dealers were critical for Nissan in the early years. They gave Nissan a toehold in North America and helped teach the Japanese the fine points of selling cars to Americans.
Yutaka Katayama, father of the Z car and the first president of Nissan's U.S. operations, told Sage that a Datsun store one day would make him a millionaire. He was right.
“I still e-mail with Mr. K from Japan,” Sage says. “He loves to e-mail.”
Sage and other risk-taking dealers were critical for Nissan in the early years. They gave the company a toehold in North America and helped teach the Japanese the fine points of selling cars to Americans.
Sage, now 77, was general manager at a Ford store in Los Angeles in the 1960s when he decided he wanted to own his own dealership. He thought an upstart Japanese franchise was his best bet.
“At first I wanted Toyota,” he says, “but then a guy started telling me what a great car Datsun was.”
So after talking with Datsun executives, Sage was awarded the North Hollywood, Calif., point in 1970.
“In very early meetings I went to in 1970, (Mr. K) would say everyone in this room will become a millionaire one day,” Sage recalls.
“I started being a dealer when the 240Z came out. It came out almost simultaneously when I started. That was the car of the automotive business. It was very popular and sought after.
“We also had the 510 model. It was very similar to BMW at the time but at two-thirds the price. The pickups were selling like hotcakes because they were real cheap, good and sturdy.
“A year later, we were selling the B210 for about $1,700. It was a good little car. When you complained to Mr. K about not having enough product, he would say, "A little hunger is healthy.' “
Universal City Nissan has been the No. 1 Nissan store in all but about half a dozen years of its existence.
Sage's sons, Joe and Lenny, primarily run the business now. They operate six dealerships, including three Nissan and one Infiniti store. Joe Sage thinks the alliance with Renault SA in 1999 helped save the brand.
“The period where Toyota grew is when Nissan was flat-footed,” Joe Sage says. “Toyota brings product to market faster and in new segments.
“The alliance quickly corrected the areas where Nissan was slowing down. When (Renault's Carlos) Ghosn took over, he immediately announced that the Z was coming back because he realized that badge was synonymous with the franchise.”
But Joe Sage is concerned about Nissan's move from Southern California to Nashville in 2006.
“Brands live and die in Southern California,” Joe Sage says. “If you miss out on this market, chances are you will miss out in markets globally. With the move to Nashville, in my view, the risk is that they'll lose sight of their global market.”