Yutaka Katayama was the point man for the launch of Nissan Motor Co.'s Datsun brand in the United States in the 1960s. His American associates called him "Mr. K."
Katayama fiercely fought the company's Japanese headquarters on product matters.
For example, he renamed the Fairlady sports car the 240Z for the U.S. market. He also demanded higher dealer discounts - 17 percent, compared with the 13 percent common to American brands.
"If the dealer makes money, we make money," he declared. Yet he had trouble recruiting dealers.
"The American dealers were very busy with their own business and had no ear to listen to some funny new Asian car salesman," Katayama recalled in a recent interview.
"So I visited used-car dealers and foreign-car dealers. I thought I should develop our network like a mold, stealthily extending its hand all over."
When Katayama returned to Japan several years later, he placed a U.S. map on his office wall. The map was filled with dots. Each dot represented a long-shot entrepreneur who had had gambled on the Datsun franchise and become a millionaire in the pro-cess.
For the rest of the story about the history, growth and future of the dealer franchise system in the United States, don't miss the Sept. 25 special issue of Automotive News:
The Franchise: A Century of Factory-Dealer Cooperation, Tension and Prosperity - Why the Franchise System Dominates.