"The First American Sports/GT
Designed and Built In Japan"

"...with the birth of the Z the complexion of the American Sports Car Market changed overnight.".... Yoshihiko Matsuo, Chief of Design, Project Z

Contributed by: Carl J. Beck
         as of: 12 May 04

American Sports/GT???
Everyone knows that "DATSUN" was the Brand Name for export cars and trucks, produced by the parent company "NISSAN MOTORS Ltd"; and that corporation is Japanese. Most people also know that the Datsun 240-Z was designed by a team of Japanese Designers, working in the Sports Car Design Studio of Nissan's Design Department at Yokohama, Japan.

Why then would anyone call the Datsun 240-Z "an American Sports/GT"? Because that is exactly what it was designed to be and that is exactly why the Datsun 240-Z is such a significant and historical design.

The Story of the Z Car Really Starts Here.
The Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces (General Douglas MacArthur) asks Dr. W. Edward Deming to come to Japan to help Japanese Industry implement statistical quality control as Japanese production facilities were being rebuilt after hostilities ended.

Dr. Deming was an Electrical Engineer with advanced degrees in Mathematics and Mathematical Physics (Ph.D. - Yale)

1950 Dr. Deming became a teacher and consultant to Japanese industry, through the Union of Japanese Scientists and Engineers.

"The Deming Prize" was instituted by the Union of Japanese Scientists and Engineers and is awarded each year in Japan to a statistician for contributions to statistical theory. The Deming Prize for application is awarded to a company for improved use of statistical theory in organization, consumer research, design of product and production. (note: 1954 Dr. J. M. Juran introduced the concept of Deming's Quality Control - as a vital management tool. So Demings' Total Quality Control or TQC becomes a management tool for Total Quality Management or TQM)

1959 - Nissan Motors Ltd. won the Deming Prize for 1959/60 for TQC in manufacturing. By 1961 Nissan had started to focus more attention on improvements in Product Design.

One of the main concepts of TQM is that the Customer Defines Quality. Thus it is consumer research that drives the design and production of the product. In short - "Customer Driven Design".

In the words of Masaaki Imai, in his book titled "Kaizen -the Key To Japan's Competitive Success" written in 1986:

Quote: This concept is also known as "market-in" as opposed to "product-out". As the TQC concept is applied down through the various stages of production, it finally reaches its ultimate beneficiaries - the customer who buys the product. Thus TQC is said to be customer-oriented. This is also why TQC activities have shifted their emphasis from maintaining quality throughout the production process to building quality into the product by developing and designing products that meet customer requirements.

This axiom is probably one of the most fundamental elements of TQC. All TQC-related activities in Japan are conducted with the customers' needs in mind. And yet some managers tend to think in terms of their own requirements. Too often they initiate new-product schemes simply because the financial resources, technology, and production capacity are available. These new products satisfy the company's need to increase production, and managers keep their fingers crossed hoping that the customers will like their products. End Quote..

Market-In Design - Driven By Yutaka Katayama:
1960 - Yutaka Katayama is sent to American as a Marketing Manager.
1965 - Yutaka Katayama is appointed President Nissan Motors USA.

This is really the next step in our Z Car Story, for it was Mr. K's insistence that Nissan Motors Ltd. follow the Deming TQC philosophy and design automobiles specifically for its American Customers that resulted in the final design of the Datsun 240-Z.

This was no easy battle with corporate headquarters either. It represented a complete break with past product design, development and marketing practices utilized by Nissan Motors Ltd. Past practices that resulted in an average of less than 4000 sports cars per year being sold in the US between 1960 and 1969.

It was one battle however that Mr. K finally won. His victory in that battle changed the history of the automobile not only in the US but also on a worldwide scale. It also proved again the merits of Dr. Deming's philosophy of Customer Driven Quality and Customer Driven Design.

"Design" is a process. In the sense of the term used here, automotive design is a defined process, consisting of distinct steps, carried out in specified order. The process is normally iterative in nature taking two steps forward and one step back. More often than not the methods, tools and techniques utilized during that process are also pre-defined and or pre-existing. In the case of Nissan Design that process was undergoing significant and Continual Process Improvements from 1960 through 1968 as Nissan developed their own in-house design capabilities.

Changing the Design Drivers:
A revolutionary change in Nissan's Design Department was started in 1966 when, with the intervention of an official from MIDI on Mr. K's behalf at Nissan headquarters. Mr. K lobbied for and got the larger and more powerful 1600cc engine his US customers required for the new Datsun PL510. The immediate result of meeting the specific expectations of his American Customers was a Datsun sedan that sat new sales records for Nissan in the US.

That success also helped assure that Mr. K would get the Sports/GT that his customers in American wanted. In effect, the following design would be DRIVEN by Mr. K's American Customers' Requirements.

"Customer Driven Design" or "market-in" design processes; mean that the design team is making design decisions selected from among many alternatives, based not on past practices, not on personal criteria, but rather on the demands or desires of the intended end customer.

In the case of the Datsun 240-Z the Design Drivers were defined by Customers in America, and in turn American Safety Standards (MVSS - Motor Vehicle Safety Standards) and Emissions Standards (EPA ≠ Environmental Protection Agency Standards). An additional Design Driver for the Datsun 240-Z was "Mass Production" for the American market, far above any previous home market Sports Cars designed for Japan.

In The Words Of The Chief Of Design:
Let's take a look at the Design Process and Drivers - as outlined by Mr. Matsuo, the Chief of Design on the Datsun 240-Z Design Team, in the book "FAIRLADY STORY Datsun SP/SR & Z" co-authored with Yutaka Katayama and as published in Japan by MIKI Press.

Mr. Matsuo states (relating to export markets) "35 years ago Nissan products were not highly regarded, they sold because they were cheap."

When Mr. Matsuo became the head of the Sports Car Design Studio, he wanted to produce an original sporting model that could embody the spirit of the best the U.S. and Europe had to offer, and ultimately see it compete on equal terms.

"When Mr. Katayama came back from America, Mr. K. said we could go on making cheap economy cars forever, but by doing so, we would never be able to move forward in the export markets."

When the new sports car project first started Mr. Matsuo reports that he felt that Nissan's next Sports Car couldn't simply be a full model change based on the Fairlady roadster. He was conscious of the fact that there were new safety regulations to consider (again referring to the US), and this latest car had to be both more comfortable and considerably more practical than its predecessors.

Mr. Matsuo said that he believed the car had to be a high volume seller, at least 3000 units per month. (compared to 400 units per month for the Fairlady roadster in 1965).

Mr. Matsuo's superiors thought it was a foolish plan - only Mr. K would listen to him and it was Mr. K's support (for the US Market) that got "Project Z" moving from the purely conceptual stages in the Design Studio and into the full development stage in late 1966, and heading for production in 1969.

We can see clearly from the above that the American Market was starting to drive the design as early as 1966. Nonetheless Mr. Matsuo tells us that he had his own ideas of what the car should be. His original concept (Plan A) was that of a smaller roadster with a 2.0 liter, four-cylinder engine.

As it became clear that American requirements were driving the design Mr. Matsuo's original concept evolved accordingly. He reports that:

"Regarding the Plan A series, in late-1966 we decided to approach the project in a different way..."

1. Mr. K's requirement for a 2.4L engine caused the car to be made wider and increased the height of the hood.
2. The US Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (MVSS) as well as Mr. K's recommendations directed it be a coupe instead of a roadster.
3. The MVSS cited SAE standards stated that the headlights should be 60 cm off the ground - this drove the use of the sugar scoop headlight treatment.

Mr. Matsuo wrote; "In final prototype, with full interior, was completed in the Spring of 1968. It was duly wheeled into the display hall and seeing it sitting there, low and wide, I thought how much better it looked than the original Plan A model.≤ ≥I had every confidence it was going to sell well."

Mr. Matsuo also reports that it was a Management Decision to install the 2.0 Liter S20 engine in the Z Car for sale in the Japanese domestic market, which incidentially resulted in the now famous Fairlady Z 432.

Mr. Matsuo's final comment in that book (which he and Mr. K Authored) is:

"I'd like to take this opportunity to express my thanks to the thousands of owners in America (and other foreign markets) who bought the Z during a period when Japanese vehicles were still looked down upon. May your enjoyment of the Z-Car continue for many years to come."

In Summary:
While Mr. Matsuo clearly wanted to design a "World Class" Sports Car for Nissan Motors Ltd., he just as clearly avoided the trap of "product-out" design taken by previous designers hired by Nissan on prior conceptual design projects.

Nissan's competition also failed to either recognize this paradigm shift in Design, or simply could not make the transition themselves. Great Britain continued to design and market "British" Sports Cars, Italy continued to design and market "Italian" Sports Cars and they both lost the market they used to own in America.

Mr. Matsuo is to be greatly commended not only for his leadership of the design team while making the transition to "market-in" design processes; but quite frankly for his ability to recognize the need for change from the status quo and his willingness to not only accept it, but to promote it in the face of his Management's resistance to it.

The first result of that leadership was "the First American Sports/GT - Designed and Built in Japan". The significant impact of that however was a change in the perception of the Quality of Japanese automobiles, not only in America but around the world.

The Datsun 240-Z started a revolution in the manor in which automobiles were defined, designed and produced for export markets. It was the beginning of "market-in" design processes and the end of "product-out" design in Japanese automobile marketing.

The follow-on results are:

- The Datsun 240-Z is recognized as:
"One Of The Ten Most Important Automobiles In US Automotive History".

- The Datsun 240-Z is today recognized as:
A "Modern Classic".

- "The Father Of The Z Car" - Mr. Yukata Katayama:
Was inducted into the Automobile Hall Of Fame in Dearborn, Michigan.

Carl Beck