A brief history of Mazda

I thought that as today is Mazda’s 96th birthday, it would be a good time to write an article on the history of the company.

The early days.

Mazda was established in Hiroshima, Japan, in 1920 manufacturing corks as Toyo Cork Kogyo Ltd. In 1927 the company name changed to Toyo Kogyo.

1929 saw Toyo Kogyo begin making machine tools. In March 1931 they moved to vehicle manufacture with the introduction of the “Mazda-go” three-wheel truck (pictured above). 66 units were manufactured in the first year.

The company formally adopted the Mazda name in 1984, although every automobile sold from the beginning bore that name. The name “Mazda” derives from Ahura Mazda, the god of wisdom, intelligence and harmony, from the earliest civilizations of West Asia. It also derives from the name of the company’s founder, Jujiro Matsuda.


Thanks to the geographical circumstances of Hiroshima, Mazda enjoyed several benefits. The region already had considerable technical experience in steel product fabrication and shipbuilding, to name two. Mazda also made good use of Hiroshima’s excellent transportation network and its position on Japan’s Inland Sea, becoming the first firm in the industry to utilize maritime transport for domestic shipments.

On 6th August 1945, the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, and Toyo Kogyo ceased all production activities. Located a few miles southeast from ‘ground zero’ and largely protected by Mount Hijiyama, meant that damage to company facilities was minimal, but employee morale was devastated. For about a year from 20th August 1945, portions of the corporate facilities were provided to the Hiroshima Prefectural government, the local court and NHK Hiroshima Broadcasting.

The Wankel rotary engine.

The continuously-rotating internal combustion engine invented by Felix Wankel of Germany in 1919 was the first rotary engine. Compared to standard piston engines it rotated smoothly, and with a very low parts count. These features, together with low noise and vibration, drew considerable attention years later, and over 100 firms around the world expressed interest in accessing the technology. Mazda was also very interested in developing this new type of engine, recognizing in it a possible solution to the needs of the emerging motorized society. In 1961 Mazda entered into negotiations with NSU, the German motorcycle manufacturer (later merged with Audi), and Wankel GmbH.

After clearing a host of technical difficulties, in May 1967 Mazda finally released the Cosmo Sports, a 2-seater car with the world’s first 2-rotor rotary engine. It delivered a top speed of 185 km/h and 0-400 meter acceleration of 16.3 seconds.

The success of the rotary engine continued until the onset of the 1973 oil crisis. As buyers quickly turned to vehicles with better fuel efficiency, the relatively thirsty rotary-powered models began to fall out of favour. Mazda refocused its efforts and made the rotary engine 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.

In 1991, the Mazda 787B racing car equipped with the rotary engine won the coveted “triple crown” at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. By accomplishing an overall win in the 1991 race, Mazda became the first and only Asian carmaker to do so. This was also the first victory for a rotary engine.

Partnership with Ford

From 1979 to 2010 Mazda partnered with the Ford Motor Company. Ford acquired a 7% stake in 1979 and by 1996 owned a 33.4% controlling interest. Ford set about a new direction for the Mazda brand and drove much needed efficiencies and cost reductions in operations, putting Mazda back into profitability and laid foundations for future success. In November 2010, Ford reduced it’s stake to 3%, citing the reduction of ownership would allow greater flexibility to pursue growth in emerging markets.

Partnership with Toyota

In May 2015, Mazda signed an agreement with Toyota to form a “long-term partnership”, that would, amoung others, see Mazda supply Toyota with fuel-efficient SKYACTIV engine technology, in exchange for hydrogen fuel cell systems.

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