Katayama was known as "Father of the Z Car" to his fans.
Yutaka Katayama, former President of Nissan USA and one of the most influential auto execs of all time has passed away.
Known simply as Mr K to his fans, Katayama was born in Shizuoka, Japan in 1909. After a brief stint on an merchant vessel in his teens, he graduated from Keio University and went to work for Nissan in 1935. The Japanese auto industry dealt primarily in commercial vehicles at the time, as the average citizen could not afford cars.
Katayama was an auto enthusiast through and through. He loved sports cars, racing and believed that the automobile could be sold as a lifestyle, not just transportation. Working in the company's marketing and advertising arm, he was hugely influential in not only Nissan's growth, but that of the Japanese auto industry as a whole.
Katayama reached out to the marketing heads of other automakers, and founded what is today the Tokyo Motor Show. He also established the Sports Car Club of Japan and was instrumental in launching Nissan's motorsports program in 1958.
However, Katayama often butted heads with his superiors over his unorthodox methods, and was re-assigned to become the president of Nissan's nascent US arm in 1960. It was here that his life's work flourished, wholeheartedly supporting young race teams like Brock Racing Enterprises, which won several Trans-Am championships.
Katayama also played a key part in bringing the Datsun 240Z to market here in the US. The niche he identified became the best selling sports car of all time and Mr K was bestowed by his fans the honor of being "Father of the Z Car." Even after leaving his post as head of Nissan USA in 1977, Katayama continued to engage with his fans, routinely traveling to shows to meet Nissan and Datsun owners.
Katayama was so beloved that Nissan used his likeness in a series of US advertisements in 1997, though he was played by an actor. He was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in Dearborn, Michigan in 1998 and the Japan Automotive Hall of Fame in 2008. He remained active in enthusiast communities until his final days. He was 105 years old.