The roots of this company, based in Fuchu, Aki District, Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan, go all the way back to a three-wheeled truck called the Mazda-Go, made in 1931 by Toyo Kogyo Co., Ltd, a former toolmaker. While it appeared the new manufacturing direction would work, things were put on hold in World War II, during which time Toyo Kogyo made weapons for the effort. In the post war reconstruction, Mazda returned to auto manufacturing.
This production started to come to fruition in 1960 with the introduction of the R360 coupe, which led the way into passenger vehicle manufacturing. The 1960s also saw other major moves for the maker. As a way to separate itself from the other companies, Mazda pursued a joint venture with NSU to make the Wankel rotary engine. Other attempts by Chevrolet and Citroen were abandoned, and NSU bowed out, leaving the maker as the only company producing the rotary engine. At this time, it was the only company to make gas piston, diesel, and rotary engines. The Wankel was used for the limited edition Cosmo sport in 1967 and continued until recently in the now defunct RX-8. Another establishing move of the 1960s was the introduction of the company's first pickup, the B-Series 1500.
Mazda in America
The next major step was to expand sales territory. By opening up production in Canada in 1968, after selling vehicles there since 1959, the way was paved for North American success. Operations began in the United States during 1970 and proved quite successful. Standouts included the rotary engine models that offered performance equivalent to heavier V-6s and V-8s. The RX series gained popularity and a rotary engine-based pickup is still the only Wankel engine-based truck ever sold in America. It's the only marquee to ever offer a rotary-powered bus, the Mazda Parkway (offered only in Japan) and station wagon, for the U.S. market.
In 1979, any financial or world distribution difficulties were offset by Ford Motor Company, which purchased a 25 percent stake. The 1980s proved to be a banner decade for Mazda. The company name was officially changed to Mazda, even though each vehicle made previously already carried the name. While rotary engine sales were slow in the 1970s, the company never stopped making piston engines and therefore had a fallback. Rotary sales began to increase, leaving Mazda in good market standing.
The union with Ford had many impacts of varying size. Having a corporate giant to finance new moves was very helpful. Design cooperation and the addition of Mazda plants in the U.S. boosted production, quality, accessibility, and sales. The 323 and the 626 models became very popular. Then came the Miata, a defining creation for the marquee. This drop-top two-seater may be the essence of the Mazda peak, a combination of affordability and performance. The marrying of the two seemingly disparate characteristics led the Miata to distinction and made it the best-selling roadster in the world.
If introducing the Miata in 1990 wasn't enough, Mazda added to its growing reputation that year by becoming the first Japanese automaker to win at Le Mans. The 787B that won the prestigious race was also a rotary engine model, making it the only rotary engine car to ever take the checkered flag. While such bragging rights improved Mazda's reputation, the 1990s saw a decline in sales of all models except the MX-5 Miata.
Mazda Products and Technologies
Like many automakers, Mazda survived the sales droughts sparked by economic downturns in the early 1970s and late 1990s. With a combination of R&D investment, which paid off with well-performing new models such as the Mazda3 and CX-9, and diehard RX fans supporting their favorite ride, Mazda has done rather well in the 21st century. Its "zoom-zoom" ad campaign and Mazda speed performance philosophy also found new followers.
Mazda proved time and again that performance and affordability can be combined into great cars and everyone from car buyers to genuine devotees can appreciate the results.