Yutaka Katayama, Nissan's first U.S. president, who grabbed American consumer awareness by introducing the affordable Datsun Z sports car in the early 1970s, died last month at 105.
Known publicly as Mr. K, Katayama left his U.S. post 40 years ago and retired from Nissan altogether in 1977. But his lingering presence as an elderly, spry and sometimes critical voice from the past has continued to sustain U.S. brand interest in both Nissan's Z cars and Nissan itself.
Katayama died of heart failure Feb. 19 in a Tokyo hospital.
Katayama is widely associated with the original Datsun 240Z, introduced in 1970 in the wake of the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro's popularity. He remained active until recently as a visiting celebrity at Z fan clubs and Datsun and Nissan heritage events.
It was under Katayama's pioneering years that Nissan's fledgling U.S. retail network rolled out the iconic Datsun 510, a small but racy Japanese sedan that Katayama hoped would steal some shoppers from Germany's BMW.
In 1960, Katayama was dispatched against his wishes to the U.S. for early market research. He considered the posting "exile" for speaking out against Nissan's Japanese unions. Once in place in Southern California, he earned a name for himself as a Japanese executive with little patience for the cautious and conservative outlook of his decision-makers back in Japan.