Yutaka Katayama, the first president of Nissan’s US arm and ‘the father’ of the legendary Z car, has died after an incredible innings of 105.
Known affectionately as ‘Mr. K’, Katayama was born in Japan’s Shizuoka Prefecture in 1909 and joined Nissan in 1935.
Serving with the company through World War II, Mr. K was later sent to the US for market research - a step he described as “exile” for fighting with management and unions back home.
The move proved pivotal for Katayama, however, eventually heading back to the US in the 60s after convincing his conservative Japanese bosses to expand.
Launched there as Datsun, the company began to import early Fairlady roadster models under the ‘Sports’ name.
Mr. K’s big moment came with the 1970 introduction of the 240Z, designed by Yoshihiko Matsuo, after again talking Nissan management into steering clear of the home-market ‘Fairlady’ name.
The 240Z and its successors went on to become one of the highest-selling badges in automotive history, heavily influencing the sports-car landscape in the process.
The popular sports car was not Mr. K’s only success, however: another key accomplishment for Katayama was the US introduction of the Datsun 510, also something of an icon among enthusiasts.
And, of course, it was Katayama who built up Nissan’s US operations and original dealer network, acting in defiance of the company’s belief that expanding into the United States was too risky.
The company now has more than 1100 dealerships in the US, selling nearly 1.3 million cars in 2014.
In recognition of laying the foundations of that network, one dealer in the US even gifted “cash cow” Mr. K with an antique golden cash register.
Katayama maintained his outspoken personality until the end, even describing the 370Z, in a 2009 interview with industry paper Automotive News, as “so-so, very different from the 240z”. (You can read that interview here.)
"Every day I die at night, but I am reborn again in the morning. I feel one day old," he told Automotive News.
Mr. K is survived by his wife, Masako, two sons and two daughters, 11 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren.
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