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Motoring

Mazda 1920-2020: a century of defying convention

The Mazda R360 was Mazda's first real car - a two-door, four-seat coupé introduced in 1960

Mazda this week celebrated its 100th anniversary with a ceremony at its Hiroshima headquarters that starts a year of events during which the company will remember its past and look to the future.

And with a history in Europe that spans more than half-century, the celebrations will continue at the Geneva Motor Show in March.

The Japanese car maker says “the courage to question common practices and forge new paths in engineering and design that others considered unfeasible has driven the team at Mazda since 1920”.

Along the way, Mazda was the first Asian brand to win the Le Mans 24 Hour race (in 1991), commercially launched the rotary engine in the Cosmo Sport 110S, created the world’s best-selling two seater roadster, the Mazda MX-5, which has sold over one million cars since its launch in 1989 and with Skyactiv-X introduced the world’s first production compression ignition petrol engine.

100 years ago Mazda was a Hiroshima cork producer until Jujiro Matsuda, an industrialist, took charge of Toyo Cork Kogyo Co. Ltd in 1921 and transformed the business first into a machine tool producer and then a vehicle manufacturer.

The first model was a three-wheeled truck – the Mazda-Go – that went on sale in 1931. It proved popular and underwent continual improvement, for example receiving an innovative four-speed transmission in 1938 that reduced fuel consumption by 20%. After the Second World War, truck manufacturing resumed only a few months after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

Commercial vehicles remained in the focus after the war, with the first passenger car – the Mazda R360 – arriving in 1960. The car was a hit in Japan’s budding kei-car segment, paving the way for the successful line-up of Mazda cars that we see today.

In 1961, the company signed a licensing deal with German car maker NSU to develop and produce its new compact, lightweight Wankel rotary engines.

In 1967, the futuristic Mazda Cosmo Sport 110S became the world’s first production model with a rotary engine. It was the start of a remarkable success story that would see the brand launch numerous models including the Mazda RX-7, and sell almost two million rotary-powered vehicles over the years.

Mazda would also prove its technological prowess on the track, becoming the first Asian manufacturer to win the gruelling 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1991 with the four-rotor Mazda 787B – the only victorious car with a non-piston engine.

The Mazda rotary engine inspired the company’s ground-breaking Skyactiv Technology range of engines, transmissions, platforms and car bodies optimised in the name of maximum efficiency and to bring what is known as ‘Jinba Ittai’, the connection between car and driver, to all Mazda models.

Whilst the rotary engine was an example of Mazda’s devotion to fun-to-drive cars, it was after the company name officially changed to Mazda Motor Corporation in 1984 that it really showed its love of driving with the launch in 1989 of a lightweight roadster called the Mazda MX-5 – at a time when two-seater convertibles were virtually extinct. Today, four model generations later, the MX-5 remains the top-selling roadster in history, having surpassed the one-million-production-units mark in 2016.

Today, Mazda has a range of cars designed using the ‘Kodo – Soul of Motion’ design language and the brand continues to defy convention with the launch of its first electric vehicle, the Mazda MX-30.

A model for the future, it also pays respect to Mazda’s past with a cabin featuring eco-friendly cork – harking back to the company’s humble beginnings.
“As we look ahead to the next 100 years, we will continue to challenge ourselves to create unique products, technologies and experiences that our customers love,” says President and CEO Akira Marumoto.

Commenting on Mazda’s centenary, the company’s UK Managing Director, Jeremy Thomson, says: “Mazdas have been sold in the UK for over 50 years and today, just as in the past, UK consumers love the style, quality and driver involvement of our cars. The UK’s passion for the MX-5 means we’ve sold more than 130,000 here and today all our cars feature the essence of the Jinba Ittai driver-and-car-as-one philosophy that is exemplified by the MX-5.

Since the inception of Mazda Motors UK in 2001 we’ve sold a total of 795,883 cars in the UK, so during the course of 2020 we will be celebrating the centenary of Mazda Corporation and the many ground-breaking vehicles in our past, plus looking forward to our exciting future including the forthcoming Mazda MX-30 electric vehicle, which will arrive in the UK next year.”

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