Old DENSO Sign

A Mission in Motion: DENSO in North America

  • DENSO 75 Year Banner
  • DENSO Chicago Office

    On March 8, 1966, Nippondenso established a small sales office in Chicago, Illinois named Nippondenso Co. Ltd. Chicago Branch. The office closed in 1975 and moved to Detroit.

Crafting the Core since 1964

As a small but industrious team of DENSO employees prepared to set up shop in the United States in the mid-1960s, a gregarious American businessman was knocking on DENSO’s door in Japan seeking a starter for his U.S.-manufactured outboard motor.  

Norm Owen, from the McCulloch Co., had seen a magazine story about a button-controlled starter and surprised DENSO’s Tokyo office with a visit to learn more. DENSO leadership, recognizing the sharp knock of opportunity, soon dispatched Akira “Andy” Kataoka, who had helped design the part, to Los Angeles to manage the McCulloch business and begin building business relationships.  

“I had a dream when I came to the shores of this great land,” said Kataoka. “And that was to help DENSO grow its business within the world’s largest auto market by creating trust with potential customers.” 

But even Kataoka could not have imagined the DENSO wheels set in motion the day he and Satoru Takemoto opened a sales office in Los Angeles, while Takashi Koyama, Masato Chiba and Takashi Okabe established another location in Chicago in March 1966.  

  • DENSO LA Office

    In March 1971, at the request of Toyota Motor Sales to locally supply car air conditioners to Toyota in the United States, the Los Angeles location officially commenced operations on April 1, 1971.

Start Your Engines

Perhaps it is serendipitous that DENSO’s first employees in the U.S. arrived during the revved-up 1960s. Detroit’s muscle cars roared to life in this energized decade, social movements swept the nation and dreamers filled the California coast. 

In between all this, DENSO began supplying McCulloch Co. with starters while exploring potential other applications. 

Buoyed by early wins, Kataoka started crisscrossing the country, networking with manufacturers at every opportunity. Within a year, he had landed DENSO’s first original-equipment contract with heavy-duty manufacturing giant John Deere. After meeting the brand’s tech-center president, Kataoka respectfully, persistently, called on the company more than 100 times before being asked about a starter for the brand’s workhorse farming combines.  

  • DENSO Cedar Falls

    To establish a strong system of technological service in the agricultural machinery market, DENSO opened the Cedar Falls, Iowa service center on September 18, 1975.  The site is relocated to its current location in Waterloo, Iowa in February 2005.

“DENSO quality was so consistent that two or three years into our contract, we learned the farmers using John Deere equipment were requesting DENSO starters because they didn’t want to get stranded in their fields, far from home,” Kataoka said. 

By 1974, DENSO had built a warehouse in Cedar Falls, Iowa, where John Deere was producing its agricultural behemoths. In 2005, having outgrown its first location, DENSO built a 35,000 square-foot facility in Waterloo boasting a warehouse, engineering and testing capabilities, quality, service, and sales.     

Today, DENSO still supplies its first North American “automotive” customer with starters and alternators, along with advanced engine cooling modules, and award-winning fuel injection systems. What’s more, these two manufacturing Goliaths enjoy a cherished relationship built on mutual trust and respect. 

Meanwhile in Motown

DENSO had turned its sights to Detroit in 1971 as it looked to source the beating heart of the American automotive industry. Andy Kataoka, with his suitcase of quality DENSO parts, queried Ford Motor Company, General Motors, and Chrysler as the three companies were enjoying the heyday of their powerful, high-performance vehicles.  

At first, representatives from the Big 3 eyed this scrappy DENSO engineer coolly and politely turned him away. But Kataoka, humble, engaging, and unfazed, continued to visit and build relationships with key Detroit-based people. Eventually, he established a modicum of trust.   

Finally, after three years of product demonstrations at area hotels, Ford approached him. Their request? Develop a new compressor capable of meeting Ford’s exacting requirements.  

“This was the beginning of DENSO’s larger business with Ford, and from there we worked with Cadillac on injector business,” Kataoka explained.  

“Then, after 1980, our work with Detroit car companies quickly expanded as we launched a permanent presence in Southfield and began a strategy of boosting our engineering design capabilities. We had to stay close to these customers and our technology had to lead,” he continued. 

By the mid-1980s, DENSO realized a significant achievement on its road to globalization: the launch of a state-of-the-art technical center that grew into an engineering, sales and operations campus for DENSO International America.  

The decade also saw the rapid growth of North America manufacturing. HVAC units started production in 1984 at the Battle Creek, Michigan, site and automotive starters, alternators and instrument clusters quickly were produced by 1990 in Maryville, Tennessee. In a little more than 20 years, DENSO had made substantial inroads to the American automotive and heavy-duty markets.  

    • DENSO Manufacturing Michigan Grand Opening

      The Battle Creek, Michigan location becomes the first manufacturing operations in North America, starting production of heat exchanger components in June 1986.

    • DENSO Manufacturing Tennessee Grand Opening

      A ceremony on October 16, 1990 opens the Maryville, Tennessee location - introducing the production of starters, alternators and meters in North America.

The Last Puzzle Piece

Meanwhile, those same early DENSO employees were executing another 1960’s strategy: to leverage an existing relationship with Toyota and promote air conditioner sales in the dealer-option market for its cars built in Japan and sold in the U.S.  

Initial demand for the units was high and within a year, DENSO Products and Services America added a Toyota air-conditioner kit to its U.S. operations. As sales of Japanese cars increased throughout the country, the location expanded its warehousing capabilities and began supplying an ever-increasing inventory of Toyota replacement parts.  

  • New DENSO LA Facility

    In the early 1980s, DENSO built a larger location and relocated the Los Angeles office to Long Beach, California to localize air conditioner parts production. 

The Los Angeles office, established in 1971, became the first overseas affiliate in North America and quickly evolved into an aftermarket automotive parts and mobility solutions powerhouse. 

In 1984, the location moved to a 10-acre campus in Long Beach, California, and commenced with launching a series of innovative brands and products, including MovinCool®, DENSO Robotics, DENSO First Time Fit™, DENSO ADC, and more.  

Later adding remanufacturing to its extensive litany of capabilities and, in the true DENSO Spirit, has provided its customers with added high-quality, cost-effective options ever since.  

American Juggernaut

The efforts of the original five DENSO employees who settled in the U.S. in the spring of 1966 have translated into nothing less than the creation of the foundational pillars of DENSO’s flourishing North American business. 

Despite the turmoil of the American 1960s, or maybe because of it, the country was marching forward to the sound of a high-tech drumbeat, culminating in Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon in 1969. By the time the world witnessed this lunar feat, DENSO had already hoisted its flag in the U.S., securing its place as an American automotive juggernaut.