The 1 millionth Nissan Frontier pickup truck rolled off the assembly line at Nissan's manufacturing plant in Smyrna, Tenn., last week, according to a blurb in Automotive News.
Nissan was the first mainstream seller of small trucks in the U.S., after earlier efforts by niche automakers, like Bantam and Crosley.
In 1959, Nissan exported the Datsun 1000 to America. It featured a 1000-cc, 37-horsepower four-cylinder engine with a quarter-ton load capacity. A 1200-cc version immediately followed with a 60 hp rating. Sales were no more than a few hundred units per year until the Datsun 520 pickup arrived in 1965, and annual sales jumped to more than 15,000.
In its first year, the Datsun 520 pickup became the top-selling imported pickup in the United States, a title the company held onto for more than a decade.
In 1969, the Datsun truck became the first half-ton compact pickup; in 1975, Datsun trucks offered the first long beds; and in 1977, the King Cab, the first extended-cab compact truck, became available. An all-new pickup — the last to carry the Datsun name — appeared in 1979.
Thanks to its long-running sales success (and to avoid the so-called "chicken tax" that imposed a 25 percent import tariff on most foreign-built pickups), Nissan decided to become the first importer to manufacture pickups in the United States.
The first Nissan pickup rolled off the line at the Nissan Motor Manufacturing Corp. USA plant in Smyrna in 1983. Fifth- and sixth-generation pickups were built there until the first Nissan Frontier (seventh generation) rolled off the line in 1997 as a 1998 model and the million-truck ticker started its count.
Nissan has assembled more than 2 million small pickups in the U.S. since 1983.
Strong sales headwinds have challenged the Frontier in recent years. The current generation debuted almost seven years ago in 2004, as a 2005 model. In 2010, only 40,427 Frontiers were sold compared with the sixth-generation Nissan "Hardbody" pickup that sold more than 100,000 units in 1987.
We look forward to the next million Frontier pickups and an all-new Frontier coming in the next few years.