This is the fifth 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 post we take a deep look at the Datsun Suisse headquarter in Urdorf and how they were organized. Where did the new cars come from? Where were the spare parts stored? How did they operate? That’s what we answer here and i’ve got plenty of rare photos and internal documents to prove it all…
1. The Location.
In April 1972 DSSA relocated from the former Location in Zürich (see part 3) to the new and bespoke built Headquarter in Urdorf ,
A quick google maps search reveals that both Nissan and Renault in Switzerland are still located in the same Building and the site still looks more or less the same as when built new, except for the main office building which looks slightly different, the street route around the buildings which seem different, and the train tracks are gone…
but let’s jump back in time first. On the 6th october 1969, the groundbraking for the new FMG import center was celebrated, as below photo with Emil Fehlmann Junior (President and owner of the FMG Holding) shows:
In the 1972 “Datsun red spot” Newspaper, it is stated that the new “excellent” FMG (Fehlmann Motor Group) 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 that year after two years of construction time, now with all the car specialists, administrative empolyees and Management under one roof.
The specifications of the new FMG center were:
– 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
– One provisioning line for 60-70 cars / day (with plans for a second line approved by the government and ready to be built, if needed)
– Own and direct railyway track access on-site
I also found this Pictures from the completed Urdorf site in the early 90ies in the ETH Zürich University image archives and the 1982 Nissan / Datsun Information brochure (Click to see full size photos):
The 1990 Nissan Brochure shows more detailled pictures, and mentions it’s 60’000m2 area size with space for more than 2’000 Cars and more than 40’000 different Spareparts in stock:
2.1 Car imports
The cars came with one of the Nissan Motor Co. owned Ro-Ro (Roll-on roll-off) car carrier vessels from the factory owned Port Honmoku in Japan to the Port of Amsterdam after 40 days on the sea. (undated photo from the 1964-1973 Nissan JP chronicles book):
In Amsterdam they got loaded on a car-carrier train and sent directly to Nissan / Datsun Urdorf on the railway. In below picture from the ETH Archives, you can see the train wagons with new Datsun cars on the left. Today the tracks are gone and cars most probably delivered by truck.
Heiko from Datsun.ch told me as a child he would also drive to Urdorf with his parents, who owned a Datsun dealership, to pick up new cars at the dealership.
2.2 Spare parts Import
I don’t know exactly how the the whole supply chain from Nissan in Japan to Datsun Suisse SA was, but at least a part of the import was handled by a company called “Nippon Express (Switzerland)”, as this label shows on one of the DSSA spare parts boxes i’ve got. The Company still exists today.
3. Car provisioning (preparation)
Before beeing delivered to or picked up by the dealerships, the cars got prepared (provisioned) at DSSA. The FMG Import center had a special “provisioning line” (the long building in front of the trees, in the picture above)
This swiss Service bulletin from december 1971 explains very detailed, the service to deliver cars “sales ready”, starting in spring 1972 (When the new building with the preparation line is finalized in Urdorf) and what it means.
The basic preparation included:
– Removing all Plastic protective wrapping
– Install door mirrors
– Fill wiper fluid and adjust the washer nozzles
– Test all the lighting and adjust the headlights
– Adjust the tire pressure
– Small adjustments here and there
– Complete cleaning
Then there were the two additional levels which included installation of various stuff, like the 240Z Spoiler, various tests, a small test-drive, and much, much more. So overall the testing and preparation was quite extensive. At least until the end of the 70ies when DSSA shifted this work from the headquarter to the dealerships (See part 4 of the story):
In this terrible quality newspaper scan from 1973, you can see a 2000 or 2400 GT beeing prepared in the provisioning line in Urdorf:
In the 80ies, the cars where additionally protected with a thick wax-layer from salty sea water and environmental influences, before beeing loaded on the Vessel in Japan. In Urdorf they therefore additionally had to get that removed again.
Here are some photos of the provisioning line in Urdorf from the 1982 Datsun Suisse Image brochure:
4. Dealership delivery
After beeing stored and provisioned, the cars were either picked up by the dealerships or delivered to them by truck. Here’s a slightly random, but cool April 1981 car sales contract between Datsun (Suisse) SA and a dealership in Neuchatel. Complete with Fiscal stamps and and signature from the then DSSA General Manager Josef Steinegger himself:
The organization changed a few times, especially under the Botnar / Cereghetti ownership in the late 70ies and early 80ies but overall the organization remained more or less the same with a sales, spareparts, marketing, tech-support and dealership development, HR, finances and administrative departments.
In this 1981 organization chart you can also see the susidiaries of the Datsun Autohandels AG (their own dealerships), Datsun Industrial machines, the Car Varia Leasing company and a future “further development” position:
5.1 Office organization
At some point in 2023 i was able to obtain a lot of internally used documents from the DSSA Headquarters:
– Top left: Cards to write down notes and leave in the car, when returning from an inspection or repair at the HQ
– Top right: general notebook with the Datsun Logos.
– bottom left: Notebook to leave a message from one employee to another about phone calls, visitors, etc.
– Bottom center: A print to authorize a privetaly executed work on a Datsun car
– Bottom right: A notebook to leave messages to a customer or business partner, when sending documents, or other information.
6. Sales (cars)
6.1 Dealerships (privately owned)
In the beginning, the cars were only sold to the dealerships, which then sold the cars to the customers. Datsun (Suisse) SA, would take care of marketing, exhibitions, advertizing, import, provisioning, homologation, warranty handling, and so on.. In point 4. you can see a sales contract between DSSA and a dealer.
Nissan / Datsun tried to push their network of privately owned and operated dealerships and workshops in switzerland and was pretty aware that, only if you have a reliable dealers and workshop network, you can sell cars to the broad public. In the early years, when nobody knew Datsun’s, they therefore printed a dealership directory in many of the adverts, so people would know where to find the cars and support. As seen here in the 1972 Datsun 2400 GT (aka “hakosuka” skyline) ad from an february 1972 “L’imperial” Newspaper:
After initial success, the sales went down in 1973, but the 1982 document proudly mentions the increase of sales and dealerships, after the takeover of Datsun UK, as seen here in the swiss dealership count statistics (change to Datsun UK marked in darker blue):
This is an 1971 swiss datsun Dealership booklet (Cover and random address-directory page shown), for Datsun owners to find support, for potential buyers to find the next dealer and for dealerships to know their nearby network
Starting mid-70ies (a swiss service bulletin mentions the new existence of these dealership lists for europe in July 1973), Nissan / Datsun issued european dealership directory books, which replaced the swiss ones. it showed owners where they could find a service station on their travels abroad, if needed. Here are all the swiss Dealerships from the 1975 directory, followed with detailed addresses and contact information on the next pages.
6.2 Own dealerships (Datsun Autohandels AG)
In the 80ies however, DSSA decided to run their own dealerships in some bigger Metropolitan areas to sense the field and have a direct customer connection. For this, they founded the “Datsun Autohandels AG” and ran two dealerships in Zürich, one in Berne, one in Basel and one in Geneva.
In 1982, they informed the Customers of an Alfa Romeo Garage in Wiedikon about the takeover, and that they would run it as a future Datsun dealership soon:
Here are two photos from their own flagship store in Zürich from their image brochure:
6.3 Cars Pricing:
Regarding the princing of the cars and options, check out Part eight of this post series, where i have all swiss Datsun price lists from 1968 to 1979 for full download in high resolution
I know they dropped the prices for cars because of the YEN-CHF exchange rate at least twice. once in 1976 and once in 1978. Of course they also advertized it, like here in an “Automobilrevue” Ad from september 1978:
7. Sales (Spareparts)
In the late 60ies throughout the 80ies, companies were, unlike today, not organized with big centralized warehouse hubs and just-in-time next-day delivery of parts from all over the world. Instead there was the huge parts storage center at FMH / Datsun Suisse in Urdorf. According to the 1982 Information brochure, the Parts-warehouse in Urdorf was more than 5000m2 (earlier brochures mention 5400m2) and housed more than 35’000 different components (the ’89 brochure states more than 40’000 items) from small bolts, to complete engine blocks. 95% of all available parts were always on hand. Every week, an Airfreight delivery from the japanese Sagamihara spareparts warehouse would bring missing parts winthin a few days, or large parts where shipped from the Port in Japan by seafreight within 40 days, via the port of Amsterdam. They were also able to source urgent parts from other Datsun agencies within europe at any time, thanks to a well set up network. The goal was always to handle spare parts orders on the same day as they got placed.
Here are some photos of the spareparts warehouse in Urdorf, from the 1982 brochure
The Nissan Motor Co. motherhouse in Japan sent a “Spare parts bulletin” to the import partners like DSSA regulary, with general information on aviability, pricing and changes (such as partnumbers or parts successor). With this information the import companies could (along the regular parts catalogue) make accurate sales prices, order and sell the right parts and inform their customers (dealership workshops) about changes on a regular base, with their own bulletins in the local language. Below you can see an the official information about the change of layout of these spare-parts bulletins from NMC (right) and a general (old style) spare parts bulletin (left)
Spare parts catalogue (such as this parts catalogue by NMC) were also given to the service stations in the form of microfiches in the early days (but also in printed and later in digital form), which also included price lists in microfiche form:
To cater the more rural areas of switzerland, big flagship dealerships acted as regional supply centers. One example is Garage Sancassani (another one was Titan AG). It does not exist anymore, but i had the pleasure to talk to the former Junior-owner on the phone. The Family-run business opened a Datsun Dealership, garage and gas-service station in 1967 in Winterthur (left picture). In 1979 they added a second building behind the old one, with a big Datsun showroom and large spare-parts stock, acting as a local parts distribution center for the northeastern area of Switzerland. (right picture, both photos from the Garage Sancassani website):
7.2 Spare parts pricing
As mentioned before and in some technical bulletins, there were special spareparts pricelists from DSSA to the dealerships. But i have still yet to see one of those. The prices changed a few times, due to currency changes CHF to JPY and other influences.
If i ever find one of those, i will of course post it here.
8. Technical Service (Customer support)
The “Technischer Dienst” (technical service) was a Customer service department. Their customers were on one hand the dealerships and on the other hand also the end-customers. The department was responsible for the swiss homologation of cars, technical documentation (for example they made and distributed the swiss technical bulletins), mechanics training, customer complaint handling including warranty cases and the sourcing of Documents / Information and special tools for the workshops and also the feedback from the swiss market to the NMC headquarter in Japan, when it came to special market requirements.
When Datsun (Suisse) SA and FMG ran parallel, Datsun (Suisse) SA was the company responsible for Imports, and FMG for preparing the cars for sales, distribution, modifications, Training, and the technical documentation, as my 3N71A/B transmission training manual shows on the bottom right corner:
In the red and blue “warranty instructions” manual (seen next chapter) it is listed what kind of documentation was handed to the dealerships. For examply Factory service manuals for cars were delivered to all of them for free, while factory service manuals for commercial vehicles only were free for the big dealerships and smaller ones had to buy them. A red box including all the datasheets for all the cars where delivered for free. Here’s such an information from the 1976 warranty handling instruction:
Here’s a picture of my collection of Swiss Datsun technical documentations folders (Service bulletins, general information, spare parts pricing, warranty handling, technical changes, etc..). A dealership would get empty folders and fill them with all the technical bulletins, whenever they get them from DSSA.
The blue warranty handling Instructions (see later) mentions the duties of Datsun switzerland, which also includes the trainings. For e.g.:
3-4x annaully: training for new dealers and technicians
1-2x annualy: training for carbs, manual transmissions and electronics
On request: training for electronic injection, automatic transmission, differential, brakes, new car models, engines, etc..
This is a list from the 1976 (red) warranty handling instruction manual about the offered trainings and the content / duration of such a training:
Aside from the warranty handling instruction manuals, shown on this page, there were also a lot of specific training manuals, like the Automatic transmission training manual shown a bit further up, but also specific documentation for new employee training courses. In the Picture above, you can see that the “Basis-Kurs” (Basic training), was four days and thought to be for experienced mechanics, new to the Datsun brand:
Here is the cover and first page of the 1979 “Basic training” course documentation, with loads of general Datsun car information, but also a lot of technical details, which were part of the training at the DSSA headquarter in Urdorf:
8.3 Special tools
The “Technischer Dienst” was also responsible to supply specialized tools for the Workshops and therefore had (and distributed) specialized tool lists to the workshops.
In January 1983, the documentation says, that every dealership has to buy a base-stock of special tools (incl. organization board) for cars for the price of Fr. 1’986.- And optionally an EFI-tester for 595.- Fr. Optional additional tools for bigger dealerships can be beteween 1’000 and 4’000.- Fr.
From the various swiss documentation, i know that DSSA also sold “Tool walls” (slotted boards to hang the Datsun special tools) to the dealers. But i have never seen anything in real life yet yet. I don’t think many of them were sold, since it was problably not so important and came at extra cost. This is a similar example from the Belgian Instagram User @hls3070803 from such a board for the belgian Market. It would definitely be a dream come true to have one of these in my workshop:
They were also responsible to get new cars homologated in switzerland. This is a set of original homologation spec sheets from the Datsun Suisse SA Headquarter. A copy of these are still found in every car registration center in switzerland today.
9. Warranty cases
The Japanese car makers and especially Datsun were famous for their great and fast warranty handling and good customer service. In the early years however, DSSA didn’t have a large parts stock in Switzerland, which gave them a bit of a bad reputation, so they improved this soon and were said to be really supportive in warranty cases.
Datsun switzerland changed the warranty policy a few times. First it was 12months or max 20’000 km, then one year without km limitation extended to 100’000km and 3 years in the late 80ies, and so on.
Warranty work was executed by the dealerships (or 3rd party paint shops) and in the following gallery, you can see a training document from Datsun Suisse SA, on how to fill the warranty reports. It includes a guide, an empty template and some examples. The other two pictures show official folders with warranty repair lead times and warranty codes (both needed to complete the warranty reports). These are part of the a green folder named “Garantierichtzeiten & Codes” which is shown a bit further up.
A service Bulletin from January 1971 explains how to ship the defective parts. Envelopes to the post office Urdorf, boxes by Train-mail (something that doesn’t exist anymore) to the train station in Birmensdorf, and how to prepare the parts (clean them, label them, add the warranty report, etc..). Another (unpictured) Service bulletin from June 1972 mentions the existence of special warranty cardboard shipping boxes for damaged parts from the dealership to Urdorf, warranty return labels for defective parts, etc.
A service bulletin (July 1971) reminds the dealers to send warranty reports within 14days after the failure, otherwise they won’t get refunded for the executed warranty work.
The following swiss service bulletin from september 1972 is mentioning that was a separate spare parts pricelist (which i do not have) and that warranty cases would be compensated with the rate calculated at the day of the compensation, due to varying currency exchange rates between switzerland an Japan. You can also see the names P. Roost (technical director) and P. Mugglin (head of spareparts) in the letter.
For spareparts, a 6 month warranty period or 180’000km warranty mileage (whatever occured first) was offered. The blue warranty handling document (see above) also lists warranty periods for accessory parts like batteries, window glass, radios, etc.
The warranty and service booklets which came with every sold car had different looks over the years. On the first page you’d usually find the information about the car and the dealership who sold it, along information like the car’s color, VIN-No, etc.. and on the later pages the service is described. Some like the one below from July 1972 had pages, which the dealership could rip out when the service was done. on the remaining part, they would sign and leave a stamp, so you have evidence of every service done, and who did it, at which time. But as i said, there were many different versions of this booklets around…
In spring 1980, Datsun (Suisse) SA got an IBM-4331 Computer system and proudly mentions this big leap in technology in quite a few occasions. The IBM Computer was used for communication with some connected dealerships, but also for billing, order management, warehouse inventory management and other administrative work. These pictures show the Computer workstations and magnetic tape storages in Urdorf in 1981 (click to view large photos)
10.2 Satellite Communication system
In the 1982 brochure, Datsun switzerland proudly mentions the new integration of the “PASS” System” (Parts air order shipping information sharing), which was more or less a pre-internet Intelsat satellite based ordering system to transmit Parts orders in realtime to the Japanese spareparts department. In this map switzerland is not especially mentioned. But according to the brochure they where also part of it.
The whole marketing topic is covered in the next Part (Part 6, “Marketing”) of this post story series. It covers all the advertizing, sales brochures, customer information, Promotional giveaways, exhibitions and press releases.
Check it out here: https://www.jdmjunkies.ch/wordpress/2022-03-13/history-the-story-of-datsun-nissan-prince-switzerland-part-6-marketing/
Overall, i have the feeling that the DSSA was quite well set-up, once moved to the new headquarter in Urdorf. the main trouble did less come frome the organiziation within the company itself, but probably due to the chaotic ownership and management that came shortly thereafter. (see part 3 of the story). Nevertheless, it is nice to see that still so much information can be found (and i still hope i can find more), and that Nissan still operates from the same place these days.
In the next post of this series we have a closer look on the marketing department. It is a quite big topic and i have many documents and photos related to it, so i decided to post it separately for a better readability.
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.