On this day in 1920, Jujiro Matsuda (1875-1952) forms Toyo Cork Kogyo, a business that makes cork, in Hiroshima, Japan; just over a decade later the company produces its first automobile and eventually changes its name to Mazda. Today, Mazda is known for its affordable, quality-performance vehicles, including the Miata, the world’s best-selling two-seat roadster.
In 1931, the company launched the Mazda-Go, a three-wheeled vehicle that resembled a motorcycle with a cargo-carrier at the back. The company’s car development plans were halted during World War II and the bombing of Hiroshima. In the 1950s, Mazda began making small, four-wheel trucks. The company launched its first passenger car, the R360 Coupe, in 1960 in Japan. Seven years later, Mazda debuted the first rotary engine car, the Cosmo Sport 110S. Mazda entered the American market in 1970, with the R100 coupe, the first mass-produced, rotary-powered car in the U.S. In 1978, the Mazda RX-7, an affordable, “peak-performing” sports car debuted. The following year, the Ford Motor Company took a 25 percent stake in the company.
In 1989, at the Chicago Auto Show, Mazda unveiled the MX-5 Miata, a two-door sports car carrying a starting price tag of $13,800. According to Mazda, the concept for the car was: “affordable to buy and use, lightweight, Jinba Ittai (‘rider and horse as one’) handling, and classic roadster looks.” The 2000 “Guinness Book of World Records” named the Miata the best-selling two-seat convertible in history.
In 1991, in another milestone for the company, a Mazda 787 B won the 24 Hours of Le Mans race, becoming the first rotary-powered car as well as the first Japanese-made auto to do so. However, Mazda was impacted by the economic slump in Japan in the 1990s and in 1996, Ford took a controlling stake in the automaker and rescued it from potential bankruptcy. The two companies shared manufacturing facilities in several countries along with vehicle platforms and other resources. In 2008, Ford, which had been hurt by the global economic crisis and slumping auto sales, relinquished control of Mazda by selling 20 percent of its controlling stake for around $540 million. (Also that year, General Motors sold its stake in Japan-based Suzuki Motor.)
In 2009, Mazda celebrated the 20th anniversary of the MX-5 Miata, whose sales by then had topped nearly 900,000 and which had won almost 180 major automotive awards.