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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 Citroën 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 throughout that continent. Mazda has also made an effort in the past to sell some of Ford's cars in Japan, mainly through their Autorama dealer group.
Mazda also helped Ford develop the 1991 Explorer, which Mazda sold as the 2-door only Mazda Navajo from 1991 through 1994. Ironically, Mazda's version was unsuccessful, while the Ford (available from the start as a 4-door or 2-door model) instantly became the best selling sport-utility vehicle in the United States and kept that title for over a decade. Mazda has used Ford's Ranger pickup as the basis for its North American-market B-Series trucks, starting in 1994 and continuing through to the present.
Following their long-held fascination with alternative engine technology, Mazda introduced the first Miller cycle engine for automotive use in the Millenia luxury sedan of 1995. Though the Millenia (and its Miller-type V6 engine) were discontinued in 2002, the company has recently introduced a much smaller Miller-cycle four-cylinder engine for use in their Demio starting in 2008. As with their leadership in Wankel technology, Mazda remains (so far) the only automaker to have used a Miller-cycle engine in the automotive realm.
Further financial difficulties at Mazda during the 1990s (partly caused by losses related to the 1997 Asian financial crisis) caused Ford to increase its stake to a 33.9-percent controlling interest on 31 March 1997. In 1997, Henry Wallace was appointed President, and he set about restructuring Mazda and setting it on a new strategic direction.He laid out a new direction for the brand including the design of the present Mazda marque; he laid out a new product plan to achieve synergies with Ford, and he launched Mazda's digital innovation program to speed up the development of new products. At the same time, he started taking contol of overseas distributors, rationalized dealerships and manufacturing facilities, and driving much needed efficiencies and cost reductions in Mazda's operations. Much of his early work put Mazda back into profitability and laid the foundations for future success. Ford executive Mark Fields, who took over as Mazda's CEO later, has been credited with expanding Mazda's new product lineup and leading the turnaround during the early 2000s. Ford's increased influence during the 1990s allowed Mazda to claim another distinction in history, having maintained the first foreign-born head of a Japanese car company (starting under Henry Wallace (Scottish)). The marque has since returned to a Japanese-born CEO, under Hisakazu Imaki since 2003.
Since 1997, Ford's deeper involvement in Mazda's operations has meant an increasing level of cooperation in engineering and marketing as well. The two firms now share engine designs from around the world (Ford uses Mazda's four-cylinder designs in large numbers, while Mazda has replaced its own V6 engine lines with designs from Ford) and have made several combined efforts in platform engineering. Their first major platform cooperation of this type began with the Ford Escape and Mazda Tribute models, which were effectively a global design that has since been sold in many parts of the world. The most recent Ford Focus also shares a platform with both the Mazda Axela and the Volvo S40.
Mazda has also conducted research in hydrogen-powered vehicles for several decades. As a major step in this effort, the company plans to release a hydrogen-fueled hybrid car in 2008, the Premacy Hydrogen RE compact minivan. The prototype has so far proven capable of traveling up to 200 kilometers (120 miles).