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Mazda Motor Corporation is a Japanese automotive manufacturer based in Hiroshima, Japan. As of 2006, the company is expected to produce 1.25 million vehicles per year with sales evenly divided among Japan, Europe, and North America. The Ford Motor Company owns 33.4 percent of Mazda.
The name of the company is explained to be derived from Ahura Mazda, a deity worshipped by Zoroastrians. It is also said that Mazda coincides with the anglicized pronunciation of the founder's name, Jujiro Matsuda, who chose to rename it in honor of both his family and the Zoroastrians. Mazda means "wisdom" in the ancient Persian language. In Japanese, the company is referred to either by its anglicised name (Mazda Motors) or as (Matsuda), after its founder.
Mazda 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, although they produced weapons for the Japanese military throughout the Second World War. 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 had owned 15% of Mazda, and its stake was increased to a 33.4% controlling interest in 1996 when Mazda fell into financial crisis. Ford executive Mark Fields is credited with Mazda's turnaround. 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 21st century, as Ford replaced the Laser with its own Focus, and Telstar with its own Mondeo.
The reverse also happened, with Mazda selling badge-engineered Fords in Europe, such as the Mazda 121 based on the Ford Fiesta. 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) kei car to a Wankel engined sports car, the Mazda Cosmo. Mazda began sales in Canada in 1968 and entered the United States market in 1970.
Internationally, the 1970s were the heyday of Mazda as a performance leader. The Wankel rotary engine 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 kei car, 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. US production was initiated via a joint venture with Ford called AutoAlliance International.
Mazda finished the decade with the revolutionary Eunos Roadster (Mazda MX-5 or Miata outside Japan) sports car (for the 1989 model year). This model revitalized the world sports car market, which was filled at the time with expensive, heavy GT cars. Arguably inspired by the Lotus Elan, the Miata has remained very successful to this day.
The 1990s were a decade of decline for Mazda. Due to the high price, the third-generation RX-7 sold poorly (although continues to be a tuner car favorite), 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, Anfini 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 of 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 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 ("Eternal Flame") 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 ("Wings" or "Owl"), which it uses till this day and features in considerably larger sizes on every model.
Mazda was widely criticised in Europe for the sheer blandness of its late-1990s designs, including the last 323 and 626 which compared unfavourably to the previous models. While technically superior, the 1998 replacement for the MX-5 (Miata) lost much of the purity of the original 1989 design, which is still preferred by many enthusiasts.
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 * A very difficult year for Mazda, as new models were in development and the company would have no new product until mid-2002.
2002 * Once the new cars arrived, however, the company quickly turned around. The Mazda 6/Atenza and Mazda2/Demio proved popular and helped change perceptions of the brand.
2003 * Mazda introduced more new models for the 2004 model year, including a replacement for the popular Mazda Protege: the worldwide best-selling Mazda3 (known as the Axela in the Japanese home market), and the all-new RX-8, to continue Mazda's sports car heritage.
2004 * Mazda surpassed the ailing Mitsubishi in sales in some markets but not globally.
2005 * It had been widely rumored for a few years that Ford would use the Mazda 6/Atenza's platform in upcoming new cars. This was 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. In the Autumn, three models based on the 6's CD3 architecture were released - the Ford Fusion, Mercury Milan, and Lincoln Zephyr. * The third-generation MX-5 (the Miata name used in North America is to be dropped) debuted in the Autumn. Mazda claims it shares no common parts with the previous generation except for the side indicator repeaters used on European-spec cars.
2006 * Mazda's performance brand MPS (MazdaSpeed in the U.S.A.) was re-launched early in the year with the arrival of a high performance 6. This will be followed later in the year with the Mazda 3 MPS.
* Acknowledging the company's absence in many market segments worldwide, notably in the area of trucks, a new crossover SUV, the CX-7, was introduced, along with a smaller minivan, the Mazda 5, 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.
* The MX-5 Roadster Coupe (MX-5 [Miata in USA] Power Retractable Hard Top in USA and Japan) had the world premiere at the London Motor Show on 18 July 2006. This is Mazda's first attempt at a powered folding roof. First deliveries are due in October 2006.
Mazda has used a number of different marques in the Japan market, including Autozam, Eunos cars, and Anfini, 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 Carol is sold at the Autozam store (which specializes in small cars), 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.
* Carol - keicar (badge engineered Suzuki Alto)
* Spiano - keicar (badge engineered Suzuki Alto Lapin)
* Scrum - keicar minivan and commercial van (badge engineered Suzuki Carry and Suzuki Every)
* AZ-Wagon - keicar minivan (badge engineered Suzuki Wagon R)
* AZ-Offroad - keicar SUV (badge engineered Suzuki Jimny)
* Mazda2/Demio - Supermini car
* Mazda Verisa - Supermini car
* Mazda3/Axela - Compact car
* Mazda5/Premacy - Compact MPV
* Mazda6/Atenza - Family sedan and station wagon
* Mazda8/MPV - Large MPV
* MX-5/Roadster - sports convertible
* RX-8 - 2+2 sports coupé
* CX-7 - compact crossover SUV
* Tribute - SUV
* B-Series - compact pickup truck
* Bongo - Commercial van
* Bongo Brawny/E-Series - Commercial van
* BT-50 - 1-ton pickup truck