Mazda Motor Corporation is a Japanese automotive manufacturer based
in Hiroshima, Japan.
During 2007, Mazda produced almost 1.3 million vehicles for global
sales. The majority of these (nearly 1 million) were produced in
the company's Japanese plants, with the remainder coming from a
variety of other plants worldwide.
Mazda began as the Toyo Cork Kogyo Co., Ltd, founded in Japan in
1920. Toyo Cork Kogyo renamed itself to Toyo Kogyo Co., Ltd. in
1927. Toyo Kogyo moved from manufacturing machine tools to
vehicles, with the introduction of the Mazda-Go in 1931. Toyo Kogyo
produced weapons for the Japanese military throughout the Second
World War, most notably the series 30 through 35 Type 99 rifle. The
company formally adopted the Mazda name in 1984, though every
automobile sold from the beginning bore that name. The Mazda R360
was introduced in 1960, followed by the Mazda Carol in 1962.
Beginning in the 1960s, Mazda put a major engineering effort into
development of the Wankel rotary engine as a way of differentiating
themselves from other Japanese auto companies. Beginning with the
limited-production Cosmo Sport of 1967 and continuing to the
present day with the RX-8, Mazda has become the sole manufacturer
of Wankel-type engines mainly by way of attrition (NSU and Citron
both gave up on the design during the 1970s, and prototype efforts
by General Motors never made it to production).
This effort to bring attention to themselves apparently helped, as
Mazda rapidly began to export its vehicles. Both piston-powered and
rotary-powered models made their way around the world, but the
rotary models quickly became popular for their combination of good
power and light weight (when compared to piston-engined competitors
with similar power, usually carrying a heavy V6 or V8 engine). The
R100 and the famed RX series (RX-2, RX-3, and RX-4) led the
company's export efforts.
During 1970, Mazda formally entered the North American market
(under the guise of Mazda North American Operations) and was very
successful there, going so far as to create the Mazda Rotary Pickup
(based on the conventional piston-powered B-Series model) solely
for North American buyers. To this day, Mazda remains the only
automaker to have produced a Wankel-powered pickup truck.
Additionally, they are also the only marque to have ever offered a
rotary-powered bus (the Mazda Parkway, offered only in Japan) or
station wagon (within the RX-3 line).
Mazda's rotary success continued until the onset of the 1973 oil
crisis. As American buyers (as well as those in other nations)
quickly turned to vehicles with better fuel efficiency, the
relatively thirsty rotary-powered models began to fall out of
favor. Wisely, the company had not totally turned its back on
piston engines, as they continued to produce a variety of
four-cylinder models throughout the 1970s. The smaller Familia line
in particular became very important to Mazda's worldwide sales
after 1973, as did the somewhat larger Capella series.
Not wishing to abandon the rotary engine entirely, Mazda refocused
their efforts and made it a choice for the sporting motorist rather
than a mainstream powerplant. Starting with the lightweight RX-7 in
1978 and continuing with the modern RX-8, Mazda has continued its
dedication to this unique powerplant.
This switch in focus also resulted in the development of another
lightweight sports car, the piston-powered Mazda Roadster (perhaps
better known by its worldwide names as the MX-5 or Miata.
Introduced in 1989 to worldwide acclaim, the Roadster has been
widely credited with reviving the concept of the small sports car
after its decline in the late 1970s.
Mazda's financial turmoil and decline during the 1970s resulted in
a new corporate investor by 1979, Ford Motor Company. Starting in
1979 with a 27-percent financial stake, Ford began a partnership
with Mazda resulting in various joint projects. During the 1980s,
Ford gained another 20 percent in financial stakes.
These included large and small efforts in all areas of the
automotive landscape. This was most notable in the realm of pickup
trucks (like the Mazda B-Series, which spawned a Ford Courier
variant in North America) and smaller cars. For instance, Mazda's
Familia platform was used for Ford models like the Laser and
Escort, while the Capella architecture found its way into Ford's
Telstar sedan and Probe sports models.
However in 2002 Ford gained an extra 5-percent financial stake.
The Probe was built in a new Mazda assembly plant in Flat Rock,
Michigan along with the mainstream 626 sedan (the North American
version of the Capella) and a companion Mazda MX-6 sports coupe.
(The plant is now a Ford-Mazda joint venture known as AutoAlliance
International.) Ford has also loaned Mazda some of their capacity
when needed: the Mazda 121 sold in Europe was, for a time, a
variant of the Ford Fiesta built in plants through