It was in 1931 that Jujiro Matsuda of the Toyo Cork Kogyo Co., Ltd., made the decision to abandon eleven years of machine tool manufacturing and turn instead to the production of cars. Its first model, the Mazda-Go, would herald an eighty-year tradition of naming its models, Mazda but it wouldn't be until 1984 that the company would formally adopt that name for itself.
The Mazda brand is distinctive for its use of the Wankel rotary engine, a design it chose to pursue in order to stand out from other car manufacturers in Japan. Having used the Wankel design since the 1960s, with its premier model Cosmo Sport in 1967, Mazda is the last major car company to still utilize this engine. The other two remaining car companies to use this design, Citroën and NSU, abandoned their use of the Wankel engine in the 1970s.
Financial distress and general company-wide decline during the 1960s caused Mazda to pair with the American Ford Motor Company. Under this partnership, Mazda produced, among other things, its own model pickup truck, entering the American marketplace formally in 1970 with the first rotary-engine model pickup truck ever made. At the present time, Mazda is still the sole company to have ever produced a pickup truck with a rotary engine.
The fuel crisis of 1973 caused Mazda to walk back its rotary-engine models in favor of more efficient four-cylinder engines and the company produced the Capella and Familia lines with a focus on fuel efficiency. However, not wanting to leave the sports car market entirely, Mazda produced the RX-7, a lightweight but powerful roadster model car, in 1978.
Because the Wankel rotary engine trades power for fuel efficiency, Mazda made the decision to focus its efforts on cornering the sports car market. Able to achieve the kind of power that a V6 or V8 piston-driven model delivers, Mazda consistently produced cars that were light but powerful, making their Miata and RX-7 models extremely competitive with their heavier American counterparts.
Mazda continued its partnership with Ford, collaborating on many models over the years. Mazda designs were used in the Ford Probe, Escort and Laser models, with the Probe having been manufactured in a Mazda facility located in Flat Rock in Michigan. Ford and Mazda also collaborated on an SUV design; Ford's Explorer model became the best-selling sport utility vehicle of all time, while Mazda's Navajo, a nearly identical design, was largely unsuccessful.
Today, Mazda is still known for its appealing roadsters and mid-size sedan models. The company claims the name, "Mazda" was taken from a west Asian god of wisdom and harmony. With their distinctive and successful use of alternative automotive engine designs, technology that other car companies often seemed reluctant to pursue, Mazda has endeavored over the years to live up to its standard of both wisdom and harmony.
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