See The Evolution Of Nissan Through The Incredible Cars Brought To The Tokyo Motor Show Over The Years


Jason’s post earlier about the drawings that led to the Pao sent me down a deep Internet k-hole of Nissan press releases and Nissan press images. There’s a lot to digest and you’ll probably see more stories gleaned from archival material. While we work up some deeper dives I noticed something a bit more superficial and, yet, still instructive. You can really see how the company evolved by just looking at their Tokyo Motor Show offerings.

Nissan did a good job of posting photos from most of the Tokyo Motor Shows and you can go to their archive to see everything, but here’s a quick trip:


1963 12 Prince Tokyo Motor Show 1200x858This is the oldest photo in the Nissan press archive and you can see what looks like two Datsun Bluebirds and a Nissan Prince sports car. Apparently, the event was quite the success per the Nissan press department:

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At this point, Nissan/Datsun had been in business making cars for 30 years and brought with it 17 cars to show off to the million+ visitors who dropped into to check out the vehicles on display.


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The Datsun Sport Coupe 1500 was quite handsome and shows a time when the Japanese were far more influenced by Italian design than by anything the Americans were doing. We don’t think of this car often because the Datsun 510 and 240Z became so relatively important in the United States.


017 1972 Datsun Sunny Rotary 19th Tms 09 1200x851

What a difference nine years can make. By the early 1970s Japanese automakers were making significant inroads into global markets. I’d forgotten that Nissan experimented with rotaries which, given the impending oil crisis, wasn’t the best move.



Hell yeah Skyline. Everyone wants to be America!


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There are huge gaps in the years, but jumping from decade to decade does give you a sense of just how quickly the Japanese evolved in twenty years. The NX-21 Concept is a four-seat coupe with giant gullwing doors and a rear-mounted gas turbine motor that could use gas, diesel, tequila or whatever combustable liquid you could find. While the motor didn’t make it to the future, the design did influence the Pulsar NX.


Sp03100193Feel the beat! We have so many great photos from the 1987 Tokyo Motor Show that not only gives us the concepts but also the fashion and overall scene. This Leopard (approximately our Infiniti M30) shows off a retractable hard top.

This is in the midst of the Bubble Era in Japan when that Japanese economy was flush with export cash from its booming economy and overvalued assets.




We get weird off-roaders, little kei cars, commercial vehicles, and EV concepts. Just look at the spread:


This is just Behar-Lotus level extravagance.



Skip ahead to after the bubble burst and things are a bit more subdued. The big reveal is the Nissan AQ-X compact sedan, which “represents Nissan’s philosophy of sedans suitable for the coming new era.” There is the Nissan AP-X concept, which wasn’t as influential from a design standpoint, but did feature the all-new VQ V6 engine that would be the centerpiece of Nissan performance for the next two decades.



Sp02350001 1200x951By 1999 Nissan was in awful shape financially and needed help. Lucky for them, Renault was in the same shape. The combination of Nissan and Renault would eventually see a company that was semi-successful. The above Nissan Cypat concept never bore much fruit aesthetically, but the CVT transmission it showcased would eventually become common. The Nissan XVL is a thinly disguised version of the Nissan Skyline/Infiniti G35.

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Around this time a young executive named Carlos Ghosn would being to climb through the ranks at the alliance, which could only end well.


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Annoyingly, I cannot find a photo of the Nissan Leaf at the 2010 Tokyo Motor Show, but here it is debuting in Tokyo. An extremely important car for Nissan even if it wasn’t a huge success.


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Carlos Ghosn, now CEO, with the Pivo 3 (your guess is as good as mine). Nissan had a bunch of whacky EV concepts, including the ESFLOW and TOWNPOD.

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I’m sympathetic to Carlos Ghosn, sometimes, but for showing us the IDx concepts and not bringing them to market he can rot in hell forever.


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Curiously, Carlos Ghosn is not at the 2019 Tokyo Motor Show. Probably because of the IDx concepts and certainly nothing else. Here’s the IMk concept.


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The most recent Tokyo Auto Show was a reminder that, actually, Nissan has more experience building EVs than most. They may have picked the wrong product direction with the Leaf, but they can easily rectify that with the Ariya EV crossover, which debuted in Tokyo.

The archives are open, so let me know what else you find.

All photos Nissan.

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19 Responses

        1. Slow clap to you for mentioning that – that livery was just beautiful, and that car always reminds me Trans-Am wasn’t just V8 pony cars back in its hero years.

          A number of years back, the Amelia concours had a collection of the well-known race cars on display (inc. the Parnelli Jones orange Boss 302, perhaps the iconic Trans-Am car) but on the other side of the field, there was a BRE 510. I kept thinking “can’t they move this any closer?!”

  1. I know many will disagree but Ghosn was the worst thing to ever happen to Nissan. Yeah, he got them out of the gutter, but at what cost? They used to produce interesting, well-made cars. Under his time they had scant successes (Leaf should have been a HUGE fucking deal, first electric car that was affordable and available?!) but overall, the brand was damaged to the point where I don’t know if they’ll ever come back.
    They traded in quality and brand equity for predatory lending in order to achieve short-term gains. Some people might not remember this, but at one point Nissan didn’t just sell Altimas to people with bad credit at absurd interest rates.
    Ghosn watered down the products to save money and it worked. Now the products are one step above Mitsubishi. This is what a CEO of a company that doesn’t care about product does. While I am absolutely not a CEO of a gigantic corporation, I’d like to believe that one can see that auto manufacturing (for people that care) should be treated differently. Auto manufacturers make cars, and people like us are attracted to cars that are made with passion. Mazda is one of the last automakers that has (mostly) stuck to their core principles of making cars that are engaging to drive. One might also argue that they are nowhere near as successful as Nissan, but at least they are honest.
    Also, just because I’m still bitter about it, another site that sounds like thedive published a total joke of a puff piece where they interviewed Ghosn, was total trash. I commented that they didn’t ask any meaningful questions. They deleted my comments. Other people said the same. They deleted those comments too. If they’re willing to bend over for an unemployed, refugee, ex-CEO I can only assume that their journalistic integrity wouldn’t stand up to a stiff breeze much less the pressure of an actual CEO or manufacturer. Screw that site.

    1. “the brand was damaged to the point where I don’t know if they’ll ever come back.”

      By “come back” do you mean creating cars like they did in the 80’s and 90’s, or do you mean turning a profit?

      Because either way, Nissan is coming back.

  2. Was lucky enough to be on work trips in Tokyo at the same time as the Motor Show three times in the aughts. Couple of highlights for me were seeing the Nissan GTR and the Alfa 8C in person. It was always a great day that went by so fast. Huge show with so much stuff to see.

  3. The first two Pivo concepts are utterly batshit and I recommend looking into them. They’re supposed to be easy to park so the cabin or wheels rotate around, the door on the Pivo 2 is in the front like it’s an Isetta – and it has a little robot friend on the dashboard. It’s like the bubble-era engineers were given carte blanche and the best drugs Nissan could find.

  4. This completely washes the bad taste from Nissan’s new tv ad out of my brain. The one where it attempts to let people know it has actual history, but then kinda confusingly shows a couple of pickups, one safari-ed Z (?!), and ends with an SUV on a plateau. Ugh.

    1. Yeah. I kind of feel like the company is still reeling from being Ghosned, and they are playing it very safe (and mostly very boring) right now. I worry about the possibility that they may stay that way too long and never recover.

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