Founded in 1920, Mazda is one of the oldest of Japan’s car manufacturers. The company was once partially owned by Ford and has since forged a relationship with Toyota, the world’s largest automaker.
Headquartered in Hiroshima, Mazda’s first production vehicle was a three-wheeled truck, the Mazda-go. This model served as Mazda’s mainstay before and after World War II, then was followed by the Romper, a four-wheel light-duty truck.
In 1960, Mazda introduced its first passenger car, the two-door R360 Coupe, which is powered by a 356cc air-cooled engine. That model was followed by the Mazda B-1500 pickup truck and the four-door Carol sedan. During that time, Mazda partnered with NSU/Wankel of Germany to develop a rotary engine.
In the early 1970s, Mazda delivered its first product to the U.S., the Ford Courier. That began a relationship that lasted for more than four decades and included Ford taking a stake in Mazda. Ford increased its share to 33 percent before selling most of its shares to retain a 3 percent stake.
Mazda set up its U.S. operation in 1974 and began expanding models under its own name that same year. The rotary-powered RX-4 was one of its earliest models. A small B-2000 pickup truck was also released.
Throughout the 1980s, Mazda expanded its product line to include the GLC, forerunner to the compact Protege as well as to the current Mazda3. A midsize 626 sedan was also introduced, a model known as the Mazda6 today.
The most significant modern Mazda model may be the Mazda MX-5 Miata, a two-seat sports car introduced in 1989 and one of the longest produced models this company offers. The Miata has few competitors with pricey convertibles such as the BMW Z4, Nissan 370Z, Audi TT and Mini Roadster also serving the market.
The 1990s brought the MPV to the market, a mini minivan model. In the new century, Mazda introduced the compact Tribute SUV, following that vehicle with the CX-5 years later. In more recent years the company has gone through a naming convention overhaul and has sold a subcompact Mazda2 along with larger SUVs, including the Mazda CX-7 and Mazda CX-9. The Mazda MPV was renamed the Mazda5.
Mazda’s competitors include each of the mainstream brands, including Mitsubishi, Volkswagen, Subaru, Dodge, Ford, Chevrolet, Toyota, Nissan and Honda. Beginning in 2015, Mazda began supplying models to Toyota, including the Scion iA.