Nissan Motor (GB) has sold its millionth vehicle since taking over sales and distribution of Nissans in the UK a little over 10 years ago. But Nissan’s press release trumpeting the milestone makes no mention of a certain controversial character who – like it or not – played a key part in establishing Nissan in the UK.

Until 1990, Nissan’s UK sales franchise was owned by controversial Swiss businessman Octav Botnar. He began selling Nissan cars in the UK in 1968 and oversaw explosive growth of Nissan sales in the UK under the ‘Datsun’ brand during the 1970s. Small cars like the Datsun Cherry were more reliable, cheaper and better equipped than cars produced by the ailing British Leyland at the time.

By 1984, Nissan had built up a share of the UK car market of 6%, a share that was high enough to secure groundbreaking investment in a car manufacturing facility at Sunderland.

However, Botnar’s UK sales franchise was terminated in 1990 by Nissan (enviously eyeing Botnar’s profits and becoming aware of UK tax problems) and tarnished the launch of the Primera – the much-improved Bluebird replacement – in the UK at the time. Botnar’s distribution company was unwilling to spend money promoting Nissans and sales dwindled.

Botnar’s company ordered 6,700 Primeras for the year but sold just 2,000.

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UK tax authority charges of tax irregularities eventually led Botnar to flee to Switzerland, where he died in 1998. The UK Inland Revenue finally won its tax battle with Octav Botnar in 1999 (over outstanding taxes of between £45 million and £55 million).