It’s easy to assume that Mazda is just another Japanese automotive brand. At some point in its history, the design of Mazda cars have even followed the same basic style and influences as others like Toyota and Nissan. However, this brand actually has a unique history and take on automotive design that subtly sets it apart. Regardless of what year or model you look at in the Mazda lineup, if you look closely enough, you’ll begin to see these design influences. More importantly, as you begin to learn about the things that make this brand unique, you may find yourself appreciating this brand more than before.
Mazda started as the Toyo Cork Kogyo Co., Ltd company in Hiroshima, Japan back in 1920. It started off as a manufacturer of machine tools but quickly went into the then-budding automotive industry in 1931. During World War II, all of its factories shifted from making cars to weapons for the Japanese military.The time after the war is when Mazda really began to hit its stride with automotive design and manufacturing. From the beginning, the company was seeking a way to really differentiate itself from other competitors both inside and out of the car. At the start of the 1960s, for example, the company spent a lot of time and effort in developing the rotary engine, which promised a different way of propelling cars down the road while offering better performance with a lighter weight. The cars from the RX series where the primary test platforms for this engine design.At the end of the 1960s, the company began to expand into a truly global presence. Starting with Canada, then into the American market, Mazda continued to advertise its rotary engine design inside its cars all the way up until the oil crisis of 1973. At this point, the design of the engine began to fail with the oil shortage since it was more fuel hungry than its traditional counterparts. By the end of the oil crisis, the company had seen a major shortage of sales, a growing surplus of inventory, and was widely regarded as one of the least fuel-efficient automotive brands.After this time, Mazda recognized things had to change. Regulating its once popular rotary engine to its more sportier vehicles, it switched gears with a partnership with Ford Motor Company starting in 1974. Ford bought a stake in the Mazda Corporation which ultimately saved the company from financial ruin. During this time, Ford used its influences to expand the Mazda car line and presence across the globe. The company also used many of the popular Mazda technologies for its own models, thus bridging many of the successful design styles and traits both Ford and Mazda brought from their respective histories.Despite the issues that plagued its rotary engine design during the oil crisis, Mazda designers never quite grew out of the desire to develop new, unique engine technologies. Around 1995, for example, the company introduced the first Miller-cycle engine. This engine was more similar to traditional piston style power plants, but offered the promise of X. Despite its success with the rotary engine and its competitive presence in the automotive industry, this engine failed to find much popularity with both customers and other automotive companies.During the financial crisis of 2008, Ford officially sold its stake in the Mazda company to recover from the challenging economic times. Shortly after, Mazda bought a small share of the Ford company to continue a long and profitable, but somewhat unknown, alliance between the two car manufacturers. After this point, the company found a need to reinvent itself as a single automotive company capable of standing on its own.
This part of Mazda’s history is important since it reveals how the company conducts business with others. Despite popular belief that all automotive brands are separate and competing against each other, this type of corporate partnership is fairly common. Many companies exchange technology, influence design, or even take over production of another company if the opportunity is right. Mutually beneficial relationships have been common in the past and will continue to be in the future. In fact, even though Ford no longer owns a share of the company, Mazda continues to form new relationships with other automotive brands. In 2015, it signed an agreement with Toyota that would exchange new technologies between the two companies. Now, Mazda supplies Toyota with fuel-efficient engines while receiving other fuel source designs such as hydrogen fuel cells in return. This will help ensure the company will continue to push the envelope with unique design and technology.
Mazda’s Approach to Automotive Design
While Mazda has had a few lookers in its lineup over the years, it is true that the company has failed to reach the same level of automotive success like Ford, Toyota, or Chevy. It’s difficult to point to a single model that stands out like a Mustang, Corvette, or even a Prius. Despite this, Mazda has proven itself as a company that isn’t afraid of innovation. In some ways, it’s been at the forefront of this trend for much longer than its competition.Even when Ford owned a significant chunk of Mazda for several decades, the differences in innovation between the two companies were clear. Mazda provided some of the technology Ford used to advance its own line, but for the most part, the desire to push the envelope was squarely on Mazda’s shoulders. From developing new engine designs to getting on board with alternative fuel sources much sooner than Ford, Mazda has never been afraid to develop technologies it thinks will satisfy customers looking for more performance and better fuel efficiency.The fact that it works with other companies is also a significant, unique trait of this automotive brand. Since it owes its existence and survival to Ford back in the 1970s, it has continued to benefit from cross-corporate relationships and alliances in this manner. In fact, it is easy to see that Mazda wouldn’t be the same without such influences.