- This article is about the automobile maker. For the Zoroastrian god, see Ahura Mazda. Mazda was also a brand of light bulbs.
Mazda Motor Corporation (マツダ Matsuda) is an automobile maker based in Hiroshima, Japan. As of 2005, the company produces roughly 800,000 automobiles per year with sales evenly divided between Japan, Europe, and North America.
Mazda Motor began as the Toyo Cork Kogyo Co., Ltd, founded in Japan in 1920. Toyo Kogyo moved from manufacturing machine tools to vehicles, with the introduction of the Mazda-Go in 1931. The company formally adopted the Mazda name in 1984, though every automobile sold from the beginning bore that name. The first four-wheel car, the Mazda R360 was introduced in 1960, followed by the Mazda Carol in 1962.
The Ford Motor Company has owned 25% of Mazda since 1979, and its stake was increased to a 33% controlling interest in 1996 when Mazda fell into financial crisis. Ford has based many of its models on Mazdas, such as the Probe, late model (North American) Escort and Mercury Tracer, and the co-developed Escape/Mazda Tribute.
The 1979 deal paved way for Ford selling badge-engineered Mazdas. In Asia and Australia, such as the Laser and Telstar. These models replaced the models from Ford Europe sold throughout the 1970s. Ford also used the Mazda models to establish its own retail presence in Japan - the Autorama dealers sold these cars, plus the occasional Ford US and Ford Europe models.
The badge-engineered models came to an end in the early 2000s, as Ford replaced the Laser with its own Focus, and Telstar with its own Mondeo. Ford and Mazda have moved onto collaboration in a more fundamental sense, by way of platform sharing.
The year 1960 was the birth of Mazda as an automaker. In just this decade, the marque progressed from a 16 horsepower (12 kW) keicar to a Wankel engined sports car, the Mazda Cosmo. Mazda also entered the United States market at the end of the decade.
Internationally, the 1970s were the heyday of Mazda as a performance leader. The Wankel "rotary" engines outperformed their piston-based competitors by a large margin, and Mazda made the most of the powerplant by putting it in almost every product they sold, from the Rotary Pickup to the RX-7, and even the large Luce sedan. The only exception was the Mazda Chantez keicar, because other car makers vetoed the move.
However, the 1970s also saw Mazda's first financial crisis, which led to Ford taking a 25% stake in the company. The first RX-7 released in 1978 would be a strong image leader for Mazda, but actual sales revival would not come until the early 1980s.
The 1980s saw Mazda transition from a niche Japanese player to a part of the global Ford empire. Having said that, the 80s saw the most mainstream success for Mazda. The early-80s 323 (GLC in North America) and 626 were massive hits, with the 323 taking the number one spot in Japanese car sales, overtaking the Toyota Corolla. (This is still very significant today whenever a non-Toyota tops the sales charts).
Mazda also contributed to Ford's lineup, most notably with the MX-6-based Ford Probe. Mazda also began building the new-for-1988 626/MX-6 in the United States. U.S. production was initiated via a joint venture with Ford called AutoAlliance International.
Mazda finished the decade with the revolutionary Miata/MX-5 sports car (for the 1990 model year). This model revitalized the world sports car market, which was filled at the time with expensive, heavy GT cars. Despite complaints of plaigiarising the Lotus Elan, the Miata has been very successful till this day.
The 1990s were a decade of decline for Mazda. The third-generation RX-7 sold poorly, and the Miata could not sustain the company's sales. The rest of the lineup was poorly-received in the United States and Japan; their popularity in Europe didn't seem to make up for the losses.
In the late 1980s, Mazda embarked on a disastrous attempt to diversify its brand names. It chose to do so because market research revealed that the Mazda brand has the connotation of economic, budget cars both in Japan and abroad. With the aim of doubling its sales, Mazda launched three new brands in Japan, Eunos, Efini and Autozam. Eunos was to have a counterpart overseas in the US-market Amati luxury division, and Xedos in Europe. However plans for Amati was pulled at the last minute, and the rumored V12-engined flagship was shelved.
The number brands was also an attempt to match Toyota and Nissan, both of which had multiple chains in Japan. A common opinion is that the sheer number of models had overwhelmed the company - in 1993 Mazda sold seven models based on the 626, yet they only amounted to 1/3 the sales achieved by the comparable Toyota.
In other markets, Mazda's identity crisis saw it confused over which logo to adopt. The "mazDa" lettertype was introduced in 1975 as part of Japan's first CAD-assisted corporate identity redesign. In 1991 a new logo was introduced, but was soon swapped for a rounded-off version because the original had an uncomfortable resemblance to Renault's logo. The new version is consistently used in 1990s Mazdas, but never became as well known as the lettertype. To resolve this issue, Mazda commissioned for a new logo in 1998, which it uses till this day and features in considerably larger sizes on every model.
Mazda and Ford continued joint efforts. In 1994, the Mazda B-Series line was split between an international (Mazda-designed) version and North American clone of the Ford Ranger. In 1998, Mazda and Ford opened a new plant in Thailand, AutoAlliance Thailand. Patterned after Mazda's Hofu plant, AAT is now an important manufacturing location for the company.
2001 was a very difficult year for Mazda, as new models were in development and the company would have no new product until mid-2002. Once the new cars arrived, however, the company quickly turned around. Mazda 6/Atenza, RX-8, and Mazda 3/Axela proved popular and helped change perceptions of the brand. By 2004, Mazda had surpassed the ailing Mitsubishi in sales.
It has been widely rumored for a few years that Ford will use the Mazda 6/Atenza's platform in upcoming new cars. This is very different from the climate in 1996, when commentators expected Ford to impose its own engineering on Mazda and lead to the loss of Mazda's proprietary expertise.
Mazda executives have acknowledged the company's absence in many market segments worldwide, notably in the area of trucks. The company will introduce a new crossover SUV, the CX-7, in 2006, along with a smaller minivan and hybrid version of the Tribute. At the same time, the company is expected to withdraw the slow-selling MPV from the United States market.
Toyo Kogyo entered the United States market in 1970 with a single car, the RX-2. The next year there were five cars: The compact Familia-based 1200 and R100, the larger Capella-based 616 and RX-2 and the large 1800. For 1972, the line expanded again with the addition of the RX-3 and B1600; the 1200 and 616 were replaced by the similar 808 and 618, respectively; and the boring 1800 was gone. The piston-powered 618 was gone the next year, as was the R100, but the 1.2 L 1200 was back for a single year.
Mazda quickly rose in prominence, helped in large part to their use of Wankel engines. 1974 was the year of the rotary with the introduction of both the Rotary Pickup and RX-4. In fact, the 808 and B1600 were the only piston-engined Mazdas offered in the United States that year! 1975 had a similar lineup, minus the retired RX-2.
Mazda had designed the REPU and RX-4 with the American market in mind, but the energy crisis was looming. The company's sales were slipping due to the Wankel's reputation as a gas hog, so Mazda responded with the reintroduction of a Familia-based car powered by a tiny piston engine, the 1.3 L Mizer. That car, and 1977 GLC (its next-generation brother) saved the company in the United States with terrific reviews and better sales.
Also introduced in 1976 was the Wankel-powered RX-5 Cosmo. But the writing was on the wall for Mazda's mainstream Wankel lineup - every one of the older "rotary" models was cancelled after 1978.
Even though the Wankel engine had lost its allure, Mazda persevered with the technology and found a niche for it. The 1979 RX-7 rotary was the company's greatest image-builder yet, casting a halo over the rest of the model line. Also relaunched that year was the company's entrant in the midsize market, the 626.
The RX-7 and 626 bouyed Mazda's American fortunes enough for it to expand. Mazda built an American plant (now AutoAlliance International) to build the 626, bringing the company to Ford's attention. The two joined together on the 626's 2-door offshoots, the MX-6 and Ford Probe.
Mazda finished the 1980s the same way as the 1970s, with an image-building sports car. The Miata was another tremendous halo car for the company, kicking off an industry boom in the sports car segment. The third-generation RX-7, introduced in 1993, was much liked, but few were sold, causing an end of the model's importation just three years later.
Mazda United States timeline
Mazda has used a number of different marques in the Japan market, including Autozam, Eunos, and Efini, although they have been phased out. This diversification stressed the product development groups at Mazda past their limits. Instead of having a half-dozen variations on any given platform, they were asked to work on dozens of different models. And consumers were confused as well by the explosion of similar new models.
Today, the former marques exist in Japan as sales channels (specialized dealerships) but no longer have specialized branded vehicles. In other words, the Mazda Carol is sold at the Autozam store (which specializes in keicars), but it is sold with the Mazda marque, not as the Autozam Carol as it once was.
In the early 1990s Mazda almost created a luxury marque, Amati, to challenge Acura, Infiniti, and Lexus in North America. In Europe, the equivalent Xedos marque was launched, lasting just a few years. The initial Amati products would have been the Amati 500 (which became the Mazda Millenia), and the Amati 1000 (a new rear wheel drive V12 successor to the Mazda 929). This never happened, leaving the near-luxury Millenia to the Mazda brand.
In the racing world, Mazda has had substantial success with two-rotor, three-rotor, and four-rotor cars, and private racers have also had considerable success with stock and modified Mazda Wankel-engined cars.
Mazda's competition debut was on October 20, 1968 when two Mazda Cosmo Sport 110S coupes entered the 84 hour Marathon de la Route ultraendurance race at Nurburgring, one finishing in fourth place and the other breaking an axle after 81 hours. The next year, Mazda raced Mazda Familia R100 M10A coupes. After winning the Singapore Grand Prix in April 1969 and coming in fifth and sixth in the Spa 24 Hours (beaten only by Porsche 911s), on October 19, 1969, Mazda again entered the 84 hour Nurburgring race with four Familias; only one of which finished, winning fifth place.
After substantial success by the Mazda RX-2 and Mazda RX-3, the Mazda RX-7 has won more IMSA races in its class than any other model of automobile, with its one hundredth victory on September 2, 1990. Following that, the RX-7 won its class in the IMSA 24 hours of Daytona race ten years in a row, starting in 1982. The RX7 won the IMSA Grand Touring Under Two Liter (GTU) championship each year from 1980 through 1987, inclusive.
In 1991, a four-rotor Mazda 787B (2622 cc actual, rated by FIA formula at 4708 cc) won the 24 Hours of Le Mans auto race outright, the only non-piston engine ever to win at Le Mans, as well as the only team from outside Western Europe or the United States. This led to a ban on rotary engines in the Le Mans race starting in 1992, which was eventually rescinded. After the race, the winning engine was publicly dismantled for internal examination, which demonstrated that despite 24 hours of extremely hard use it had accumulated very little wear.
This followed a decade of class wins from other Mazda prototypes, including the 757 and 767. The Sigma MC74 powered by a Mazda 12A engine was the first engine and team from outside Western Europe or the United States to finish the entire 24 hours of the Le Mans race, in 1974. Mazda is also the most reliable finisher at LeMans (with the exception of Honda, who have entered only three cars in only one year), with 67% of entries finishing. Mazda will return to prototype racing in 2005 with the introduction of the Courage C65 LMP2 car at the American Le Mans race at Road Atlanta. This prototype racer uses the Renesis Wankel from the RX-8.
Mazdas have also enjoyed substantial success in World Land Speed competition, SCCA competition, drag racing, pro rally competition, the One Lap of America race, and other venues. Wankel engines are barred from international Formula One racing, as well as from United states midget racing, after Gene Angelillo won the North East Midget Racing Association championship in 1985 with a car powered by a 13B engine, and again in 1986 in a car powered by a 12A engine.
Formula Mazda Racing features open wheel race cars with Mazda engines, adaptable to both oval tracks and road courses, on several levels of competition. Since 1991, the professionally organized Star Mazda Series has been the most popular format for sponsors, spectators, and upward bound drivers. The engines are all built by one engine builder, certified to produce the prescribed power, and sealed to discourage tampering. They are in a relatively mild state of racing tune, so that they are extremely reliable and can go years between motor rebuilds.
- Mazda is the only remaining manufacturer of Wankel "rotary" engine automobiles, and is the only manufacturer to produce 2 and 3 rotor Wankel engines for production.
- Mazda is the only manufacturer to ever produce a Miller cycle engine, as used in the 1993 Mazda Millenia.
- Mazda is the only Asian automaker to have won the 24 Hours of Le Mans race, which the company accomplished in 1991 with their rotary-powered 787B.
- Mazda's B-Series and Ford's Courier and Ranger have an interesting history. The Courier was launched internationally in the 1970s as a clone of the Mazda. For North America, Ford replaced the Courier with the in-house Ranger design in the 1980s, only to have the badge engineering reverse itself in 1994 as the B-Series became a Ranger clone in that market. Internationally, however, the both the Ranger and Courier names were then applied to versions of Mazda's truck. Today, the B-Series/Courier/Ranger and Truck/Ranger are two entirely different truck lines in the two markets.
- Mazda had the distinction of having the first foreign CEO to head a Japanese car company, former Ford Motor Company CFO, Scottish-born Henry Wallace in 1996. Many Japanese media outlets at the time reacted in shock and horror, and wondered if Ford would cut jobs. He was followed by Ford President James Miller in 1997, and Mark Fields in 1999 until 2001, when he was tapped to lead Ford's Premier Automotive Group and handed the reins to Lewis Booth. Lewis Booth went back to Ford in 2003 and Mazda Director Hidekazu Imaki is now CEO.
- There have been many stories about how it got its name. Some say it got its name from the Zoroastrian deity Ahura Mazda, while others say it was an anglicized pronunciation of the founder's name, Jujiro Matsuda. The most likely reason was that the name Mazda coincided with founder Matsuda's last name, who was known for his interest in spiritual matters, and may have chosen Mazda in honor of the Zoroastrians, and his own name. In Japanese, the company is referred to either by its anglicised name (MAZDA Motors) or as マツダ (Matsuda), after its founder.
- Mazda Official Website
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