Yutaka Katayama: Businessman whose vivacity and innovative marketing transformed Nissan into a world-beating car brand

Inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame, Katayama was revered by Z fan clubs around the world

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The Independent Online

Yutaka Katayama, who has died at the age of 105, was president of Nissan Motor's US arm who built the Z sports car into a powerful global brand in the 1970s. Known as the "father of the Z", he won international respect for the Datsun Z as an affordable sports car at a time when Japan-made products were synonymous with slipshod quality.

Carlos Ghosn, who has led a turnaround at the Japanese carmaker under an alliance with Renault, resurrected Katayama's legendary status at Nissan by bringing back the Z, which was discontinued in 1996. Inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in both the US and Japan, Katayama was revered by Z fan clubs around the world and was nicknamed "Mr K".

"A car is a horse. I want to drive a thoroughbred that's in tune with my heartbeat, but not something that's too dressed up for someone like me," Katayama said in a 2002 interview about the Z's comeback. In selling the Datsun brand in the US, he stressed maintenance services and courted dealers and employees alike. His vivacious personality helped. "With a love of cars and a flare for promotion, he built the Datsun brand," Nissan said on its website.

In 1939 he was ordered to report to a Nissan plant in the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo, but obtained a transfer back to Japan in 1941. Near the end of the war in 1945 he refused orders to return to Manchukuo, and later credited his survival of the war to his decision. His son Mitsuo Katayama said, "His greatest achievement, I think, was the fact that he was able to give many American Datsun dealers their own success story."

Yutaka Katayama, businessman: born Hamamatsu Japan 15 September 1909; married Masako (two daughters, two sons); died 19 February 2015.