Mazda are the 15th largest automaker in the world, and unlike most modern carmakers, they still manufacture 75% of their vehicles in their home country of Japan. But what is Mazdaís vision of the future like? Why did they use the largely unpopular Wankel engine design? And are they really named after a ancient god?
Let there beÖ tools?
Mazdaís earliest incarnation was called the Toyo Cork Kogyo Co. Ltd, and they manufactured tools for machinery. It wasnít until 1931 that they turned their hand to the automotive side of things. They then produced rifles for the Japanese military during the Second World War. Although all Mazda vehicles produced bore the Mazda name as part of the model, the company didnít officially become Mazda until 1984.
Did you really have to name it after him?
The Wankel engine is so named, as it was Felix Wankel, a German engineer, who first pioneered the design. Mazda kept producing the Wankel configuration of engine in production vehicles long after the other big boys had abandoned the design. It is believed they did this largely to stand out. The lightweight design has served them well as they have had great success with it, especially in the RX models.
Their most popular model
Since its introduction in 1989 nearly 1 million MX-5ís have made their way out of showrooms. This makes it the most successful 2-seat convertible sports car in history. It even has an entry into the Guinness Book of Records to prove it. A joint venture with Fiat means that a new roadster based on the MX-5 configuration will be made for the Alfa Romeo brand, these will be built at Mazdaís Hiroshima plant.
Mazda has had much success in motorsport, both with its conventional and Wankel engines. The RX-7 won its class for ten consecutive years in at the 24 Hours of Daytona, as well as winning 7 consecutive titles in the Under 2 Litre championship. In addition to these they have also created, and had success with, many high-powered prototypes such as the 787B, which took victory at the 1991 Le Mans 24 Hour race.
A large following
In line with the ĎZoom Zoomí marketing, Mazdaís cars do seem to inspire an emotional attachment within their owners. They have several owners clubs for various models, and the easy to tune models have proved massively popular in the boy racer scene. The biggest officially recorded gathering happened in the Netherlands, in 2013, and consisted of 683 MX-5ís.
We have already mentioned Mazdaís recent collaboration with Fiat, but not many people know that up until recently Mazda had strong ties with Ford Motor Co. Over the 31-year alliance both companies assisted each other. The Mazda 121 was a variant of the Ford Fiesta, whilst the Ford Explorer was partly developed by Mazda, and went on to be the most popular SUV in the US for over a decade.
Mazda have used a few different brand names over the years. There cars have been badged as Eunos, Autozam, and Efini. These have all now been phased out. They also planned a luxury badge to challenge the likes of Lexus and Infiniti, but scrapped the idea before any of the models hit the showrooms.
Mazda have researched hydrogen-powered vehicles for many years. But there may be signs of them not being satisfied with their endeavours, when in 2010 they signed an agreement with Toyota for the use of the Priusís hybrid technology. They are also implementing what they call SKYACTIV Technology. This is an array of technological advancements that mean fuel economy is similar to if the vehicle was a hybrid, and emissions are also greatly reduced.
A new direction
As well as research into green technology, Mazda have also adopted a new design philosophy called ďKODO Ė Soul of MotionĒ. The Mazda website states ďA muscular body with a strong backbone. An elegant demeanour that hints at the character beneath. An appearance that oozes charm and sophistication, ready to sweep you off your feet at a momentís notice.Ē We canít comment on all the flowery descriptions, however, we must admit the new Mazda range is considerably better looking than the outgoing models.
At a time when the European car market is shrinking, Mazdaís sales of new cars are on the up. The new KODO design principles coupled with the economy offered by SKYACTIV appear to have induced a surge in sales. They have seen a comparative month increase of 29.8% for May 2013, and the years figures are up 6.9% on the previous year already. If they maintain the attractiveness of their model range and economy offered by their design, we predict a very profitable future for Mazda.