HISTORY: The story of Datsun, Nissan & Prince Switzerland – Part 3 “The early years” (1960 – 1977)
This is the third part of a multi-post series about the (hi)story of Datsun, Prince and Nissan in switzerland. Check out the other parts HERE
In this third installment we’re looking at the inside of Datsun (Suisse) SA and the Fehlmann Motor Group (excluding the industrial vehicles, which will be covered in a later post) in the years 1960-1977 a bit more in-depht. It was basically the period when the Datsun brand was brought to switzerland and established as a serious car brand from scratch. Remember, back then japan was still a far away and “mystic” country, and it took serious efforts to get goods to the other side of the globe, and it was a time when the average people just started to be able to afford a car and the automotive mass-market started to take off in a rapidly recovering pos-WW2 economy…
1. Prelude & Emil Fehlmann
In 1960, a very active Businesman, named Emil Fehlmann (Junior), which had just recently taken over his Dad’s “E. Fehlmann Motor AG” in Zürich after the senior died (see also part two of this story), thought it was time to expand the business, and was looking for new brands to add to his portfolio. I don’t know how the initial contact came to be, but it is said that he got in touch with the Nissan Motor Co. people at the paris motorshow in 1960, but i have nothing to prove this. At the same time, the very first Datsuns were shipped to europe (Norway).
In 1961, the Nissan Motor Company was advertising the Datsun Brand in swiss Automotive related magazines, but without having a sales agent or subsidiary in switzerland. I guess the purpose was to just promote the brand, and check the interest of potential buyers.
The contact address in the ad was the NMC, export-division in the Otemachi Building, Otemachi, Tokyo, Japan:
According to Ernst Pfister (a later Director of Datsun switzerland, see below), four years of hard preparation work later, in 1964, the circumstances (particulary the export car portfolio of NMC and the swiss market preferences) showed that it still wouldn’t make sense to import the Datsun brand to switzerland and it was agreed between the Nissan Motor Corporation and Emil Fehlmann to wait until the stars aligned. Reports show that settling an agreement with the japanese was very tough and took a long time, but on the other hand it was also reported that the japanese were very trustworthy and reliable partners.
2. The Beginning & René Giezendanner
In 1966 it was finally agreed that the time was right now. Both NMC had some experience with exporting cars to europe meanwhile, and had built a small car-lineup for the european export markets, but also Mr. Fehlmann had gained experience with car sales and the import of other brands. So in 1966 the contract was signed:
Also in 1966, on the 13th of October, René Giezendanner registered the “Datsun AG” in Rüschlikon at the Schlosstrasse 21, as you can see in the below snapshot of the commercial register record. It appears this is a private address and was only used to register the company.
René Giezendanner had a few trustee and auditing companies, so i assume he was in charge to found the company for the Fehlmann family including the whole legal- and paperwork. That’s most probably why his name and address in Rüschlikon pops up in the early records, without seeing him beeing actively involved in the companies daily business. You can find his name in a variety of companies linked to the Fehlmann family over the years.
Here’s an very early (undated) Nissan Silvia (aka Datsun 1600 Coupé) Flyer from a swiss car magazine (found on csp311.net), with the “Datsun AG” name on it. You might wonder why the address is zürich, while the company was registered in Rüschlikon? As mentioned before i think the reason was that while the company was legally registered at Mr. Geizendanners home in Rüschlikon, but they actively operated from Mr. Fehlmanns “Titan Autohandels AG” in Zürich, where the company was officially and legally also relocated in the records a few months later (see below). What is especially interresting with the ad, are the cars on the top and bottom. Both are wearing swiss “ZH” (Zürich) numberplates. These must be some of the very first Datsun branded cars to ever have arrived in switzerland!.
Only 4 months Later, the Company was renamed to “Datsun (Suisse) SA”, with the business purpose to deal with Cars and commercial vehicles and spareparts of the “Datsun” Brand in switzerland. Datszb / Suisse SA became part of E. Fehlmanns “Fehlmann Motor group” (FMG). The FMG was an Umbrella / Holding business for the various car companies. they had the import center and commissioning while the individual companies would take care of the imports and sales of the cars. Here’s a brief overview of how FMG was set up:
The first cars are said to have arrived in switzerland already in 1966, but official sales started only in 1967.
Here’s a Datsun 1300 Flyer from Datsun (Suisse) SA from 1967 (with the headquarter address in Zürich, despite the fact the company only moved there legally in 1968). It also says “Import, Distribution, Spareparts and Technical Support” for Datsun in switzerland.
In this 20iest anniversary Press release from 1987, it is stated that the first Datsun cars were shown in February 1967 at the swiss transport museum and only one month later they showed the cars at the Geneva international Motor show.
Here you can actually see some pictures from that show where at least a Datsun 1000 and a 1300 were shown. (Link)
And here’s a picture of the 1967 official swiss Datsun Sales brochure incluiding the Datsun 1300, 1300 Station wagon, 1000, 1600 Coupé, The Datsun 2000 and the Datsun 2000 Station wagon.
Check out this LINK if you want to see the catalogue and above flyer more detailed.
3. Zürich & Ernst Pfister
In February 1968 the headquarter officially got registered in Zürich, at the Stauffacherstrasse 45 (same address as E. Fehlmann’s Titan Autohandels AG aka the “Titanhaus”, see also part two of this story, and same address as used on earlier datsun documents, see above) in the Center of Zürich. Some documents mention they previously operated from the same location as the old “Titan AG” in the Badenerstrasse in Zürich.
At the same time, Mr. Ernst Pfister got the power of attorny, and in real life he was the man to run the business soon…
The headquarter in Zürich was mainly the representative and adminstrative office and a part of the spareparts warehouse. If you look closely, you can see the shelves through the windows.
Here is a picture from the same 1971 Information leaflet, showing some of their parts storage in Zürich. You can clearly see the typical Nissan Pattern of early datsun spareparts printed on the boxes…
A quick google streetview search reveals that the “Titanhaus” building still looks similar in 2021 with the main entrance shape and window positions:
On the 30. November 1968 the Swiss Automobile technical Assosication “SATG” held a symposium in Lenzburg with the “Nippon” theme. Owners of Toyota Switzerland, Hämmerli AG (Nissan Caball importeur, see later part of this story) and Mr. Ernst Pfister of DSSA held a presentation about their experience with the Japanese and of course their products. In the afternoon a “Mini Tokyo-Salon” was held, where the companies showed their cars alongside with Honda Switzerland and some japanese workshop tool importers.
A newspaper story from that event states that Mr. Pfister was impressed by the power simple Engineers had at NMC and also how serious they took DSSA, even though they only imported a handfull of cars in a small market so far. According to the report they were very happy to work with the japanese. It also quotes Mr. Pfister that in 1968 they were still focussing on establishing a professional spareparts supply chain and network of Service and sales dealerships rather than high sales figures or cars.
According to a press release, in 1969 they sold 1456 cars (a slightly different number to the statistics shown at the end) and it marked the year when DSSA became profitable.
Already in the early years, motor shows where an important part of the marketing for Datsun in switzerland. I was lucky to find this Datsun (Suisse) SA press release for the 1969 Geneva international motor show. It includes a pricelist with specs and options and a description of each car from their 1969 lineup including some photos and press information: If you wanted to get a press-car for testing, it advises you to contact Mr. Ernst Pfister directly at the headquarter in Zürich. It shows how small the company was back then, if you’d have to contact the director himself to get a press car 🙂 The press release says that following cars where shown at Booth 44, Hall 3: Datsun 1000 / 1300 / 1600 / 1600 Station wagon / 1600 SSS / 1800 and 2300. In the sports car exhibition (Hall 3, booth 51), the Nissan R381 Prototype was displayed.
Two years later, in 1970, Ernst Pfister officially became the Director of the Datsun (Suisse) SA, and Emil Fehlmann became chairman of the board of leaders. Despite the fact that Emil Fehlmann was the guy behind the Datsun brand and the companies, his name never pops up in official commerical records until then. Ernst Pfister was the man to run the daily business as the director, while Mr. Fehlmann was the man to expand the business and keep up with the sales growth (see later) and the expanding market.
With growing infrastructure needs, in 1970 the build of the new logistics center and headquarter for the Datsun (Susse) SA, Delmar AG and E. Fehlmann AG in Urdorf was planned and started.
This picture from february 1971 shows the development of the new headquarter on the industrial area called “Bergmoos” in Urdorf:
In the following 1971 year Datsun information brochure, this Photo of the construction site in Urdorf is shown, clearly nearing completion:
The 1971 Datsun “RedSpot” Information magazine shows some interesting statistics about the datsun market share in switzerland and their ranking. Starting at the 35th (last) place in 1967 with a market share of 0.1%, going up to 13th place of sales with a market share of 2,6% in 1971. Another interesting part of that magazine (see graphic at the bottom), shows that switzerland was on 7th place worldwide when it came to cars per 100 people ranking in 1971 with every 5th person already owning a car! that was more than in germany, austria and much higher than japan, where only every 15th person had a car at that time:
In 1972 the DSSA also registered the “Cherry” trademark Logo in the swiss commercial register:
4. Urdorf & Christian Habermann
In April 1972, the company was officially relocated to the new headquarter in Urdorf:
In the 1972 “Datsun red spot” Newspaper, they explain the new “excellent” FMG Import Center beeing completed in Urdorf, out in the beautiful green and with best traffic situation and transport links. They claim the new site is beeing opened this year after two years construction time, now with all the car specialists, administrative empolyees and Management under one roof.
The specifications of the new FMG center were:
– One provisioning line for 60-70 cars / day (with plans for a second line)
– 50’000 m2 total Area
– 5’400 m2 Warehousing Area for spare parts
– 2’100 m2 Office space
– 38’800 m2 partially covered car storage area
And it also shows a photo from the scale model. If you look close enough, you can see a train track left of the main building, to deliver cars and parts directly from the Port of Amsterdam by train. The direct train access link is also specificly mentioned in later brochures.
This scan from the Japanese Nissan Chronicles book shows the swiss import company adress in Urdorf listed in the NMC distribution network with E. Fehlmann as the responsible person and the address in Urdorf.
It is said that the Automotive boom in the 70ies lead to some problems and the company was expanding so fast that things got a bit chaotic. Mr. Fehlmann wanted to withdraw from the daily business and therefore installed Mr. Christian Habermann in October 1972 as the General Director of Datsun (Suisse) SA and the Delmar AG in Urdorf. The German got the Full desicion making power and responsibility to reorganize the company and its structures to the rapidly growing market.
Mr. Habermann was previously General director of Chrysler Suisse SA where he merged the distribution networks of Chrysler france (previously simca) and Chrysler UK (previously Rootes) successfully. After his move to the Fehlmann motor group, he became the delegate of the leaderboard of DSSA and Delmar AG to handle the import of the Datsun and SAAB brands in switzerland.
It is said that Mr. Habermann took the troublesome work to reorganize the company serios and managed to motivate the employees. Then the oil crisis with the recession hit the world in 1973.
Internal documents show that Mr. Habermann set up a new management team and gathered a solid position in the swiss automotive market, despite the fact that the Datsun cars portfolio never were really attractive for the swiss market. He spent quite some money on advertizing campains, and that’s the reason why you can see so many of the old brochures in these posts.
In this Photo from the June 1973 internal Employee party Newsletter, you can see E. Fehlmann handing over a “Walliserkanne” Winner’s cup to Mr. Habermann as a gift for the employee party’s competition winner:
The following Automobilrevue story scanned from their 1973 newspaper shows the general situation of Datsun Switzerland / NMC and the general ecnomy, including the completed (and filled) import center in Urdorf:
With the new building completed, the FMG and DSSA had to find a lot of manpower to get the work done. Reliability and a good service was always something important for Nissan and what made them (or most japanese brands generally) famous around the world. So Datsun switzerland always made sure the quality of their cars was flawless and spent quite some manpower to inspect all the incoming cars from amsterdam. They also proudly advertised their quality and big service network in switzerland.
Here’s an old job advertisment from 1972, when FMG was looking for a “Service inspector” from an newspaper. A person to go to the different Datsun dealerships and make sure the quality of service meets the standard they (or NMC) set for the brand:
In this terrible quality newspaper scan from 1973, you can see a 2000 or 2400 GT beeing prepared in the provisioning line in Urdorf:
The Datsun 2400GT (also known as skyline “hakosuka” in other markets) was heavily promoted in 1972, like in this ad in the L’imperial newspaper. In the background you can see a list of all swiss dealerships.
This is the 1973 Press release from the Geneva international Motor show. You can see the exhibited cars on the cover page including the Nissan ESV Experimental vehicle. While the location remained the same, the street was renamed to “Schützenstrasse” and the contact address was the Fehlmann Motor AG, which was the DSSA Holding / Parent company:
5. The Dutch ownership & Willem Robert Greeve
Unexpected and incomprehensible for many of the Involved, E. Fehlmann sold the Datsun (Suisse) SA in september 1975 to Willem Robert Greeve. A Dutch man who also owned Datsun Netherlands at that time. According to official documents the reason was mainly because of Fehlmann having some health issues and wanted to step back from the business a bit.
The above newspaper from the 20 sept- 1975 sais it was a “Partnership” but actually they sold it to the newfound “Sakurama Beiteiligungs- und Finanzgesellschaft AG” (see also part two of this story) of the dutch, which bought the Company and 90% of the shares, but the distribution center in Urdorf was still owned by Fehlmann. Internal documents show that there were quite some disputes between Fehlmann and Habermann, since Mr. Habermann didn’t want to accept this, and wanted to secure the majority of the shares in Switzerland. It is reported that Fehlmann did not consent with the suggestions of Habermann to find other solutions.
To stay fair, Fehlmann persisted that the sales contract comitted the new Dutch owners to keep Mr. Habermann and his team as the management and it was reportedly also supported by NMC in japan. In a special agreement (Part of the deal) between NMC, DSSA and the Dutch owners, it was agreed that Mr. Habermann would get a part of the profit as a Bonus, which where earmarked to buy further DSSA shares.
It is said that it all worked well. While the ownership changed, the Management and team remained the same and kept on beeing busy keeping up with the expanding market and Mr. Greeve was reportedly happy with the work and financial outcome of Christian Habermann and his team.
The story continued like this and the DSSA closely worket together with their around 175 dealership network, until the end of 1977, when a certain Mr. Botnar showed up. But we’ll keep that part of the story for the next installment. Watch out for part 4 on this website soon, when things really get a bit “hectic” to say the least.
Last but not least, you find the sales figures from the 1967 to 1977 years (taken from the 1982 DSSA brochure) below:
As with all my knowledge posts, i tried my best to get all information from trustworthy and official sources. However i can not guarantee that above information is 100% correct. If you have any correction, input or additional information, i appreciate if you let me know. I’ll update this post whenever i find something to add or change.
Also i put countless unpaid hours of research and work into this post and spent quite a bit of money to buy a lot of original documents, so please ask, before you copy anything, including the pictures. thanks!
Big Thanks to Marcel from the Bettelbrünneli Collection, Gerard from Zonedatsun, Heiko from Datsun.ch, Stefan from Cagedude, Lara from the Central Library of Zürich and the ETH Zürich team behind the E-Periodica Archives, Myrtha with her inside-knowlege and the historic Archive of the Verkehrshaus Luzern. Without all of you, this posts wouldn’t have been possible!
I also was in contact with some people at Nissan switzerland, but still waiting for some information until today. If i get anything, i will update these posts immediately.