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Maybe you know the marque that sits behind Toyota, Holden and Ford for Australia’s most popular car. If you think that Mazda does, you are certainly correct. Mazda has consistently been a popular choice for consumers in Australia, and in 2006, Mazda became the fourth best selling car marque to be sold in Australia. Check out any dealers in downtown Melbourne or Brisbane – they’re bound to have at least one Mazda.

But how did Mazda come into being?

Starting in 1920, a little company called Toyo Cork Kogyo, Ltd. was founded in Hiroshima, Japan. Mr. Jujiro Matsuda, along with a small group of investors took over a company named Abemaki Tree Cork Company. They renamed it Toyo Cork Kogyo Ltd and developed out of cork production and into industrial manufacture.

In 1927, Mr Matsuda reformed the company and gave it the name Toyo Kogyo Kaisha. And in 1929, the company was producing machine tools. The same year, they made their first motor vehicle. A test run of 30 tricycle trucks were completed and tested. By 1931, these tricycle trucks were being exported to China. They had the name Mazda-Go-a. In 1934, Toyo Kogyo changed the company’s name again and gave it the name Mazda. Mr Matsuda specifically wanted the company to link its image with the Zoroastrian god Ahura Mazda. The name, he believed, gave the brand a broader and more positive meaning. The name Mazda started appearing on all the vehicles produced by the company.

In 1934, Mazda also started making small eight-wheeled trucks, rock drills and gauge blocks, thus expanding their production ability.

As 1940 approached, Mazda began to develop a small sedan. However, due to World War II, development stopped so that the company could help Japan’s war effort. Unfortunately, around half of the factory was destroyed due the atomic bomb that was dropped by the Americans on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.

After rebuilding the company’s production facilities, car development and manufacturing were able to begin again.

It was in 1960 that Mazda introduced the R360 coupe, which was one of the first two-door passenger cars Mazda ever made. And the sixties were to be a huge decade for Mazda cars. In 1961, Mazda designed and developed an engine which was unconventional to the pattern used by all other car manufacturers of the day. Mazda entered into technical co-operation with NSU and Wankel in designing and building rotary engines. Mazda could now offer the conventional gasoline piston, a diesel and a rotary engine in their model range (one wishes, though, that as much thought had gone into the naming of the Wankel engine as they put into the naming of Mazda. It can be hard to talk about a Wankel engine with a straight face…).

Mazda made huge advancements in 1967 and 1968. Mazda exported into the European market; the Cosmos (110S), which was Mazda’s first production rotary vehicle. The Familia Rotary Coupe, or R100, was also released, and, in 1970, Mazda began exporting vehicles to the US market. With the introduction of the Capella RX-2, Mazda were now exporting their products globally.

It quickly became apparent that, in the 1970s, Mazda had become, well and truly, a performance leader internationally. The Wankel rotary engine outperformed its conventional piston-based competitors by a large margin, and Mazda made the most of this by putting a rotary option in almost every product they sold – from the Rotary Pickup to the RX-7 – and even the large Mazda Luce sedan.

However, the latter years of the 1970s became a struggle, and Mazda’s first financial crisis struck. Ford came to the rescue and took a 25% stake in the Mazda company.

The first RX-7, which was released in 1978, was a sleek, well-proportioned sports coupe that was to be a strong image leader for Mazda. But actual sales did not come into their own until the early 1980s.

The 1980s were to be successful years for Mazda. Not only did Mazda become a large part of the global Ford empire, but the 323 and 626 models were massive hits around the world. The Mazda 626 has become an icon of reliability and practicality as a car fit for the small family. During the eighties, the 323 took number one spot in Japanese car sales, overtaking the ever present Toyota Corolla. The beautiful and very neat handling Mazda MX-5 was introduced in 1989. It was to become the sports car of 1989. This model jostled the world sports car market, and the MX5 has remained very successful to this day.

Sadly, the 1990s were a decade of decline for Mazda. Mazda was widely criticized in Europe for the sheer blandness of its 626 and 323 model designs. And while technically superior, the 1998 replacement for the MX-5 lost much of the sweetness and purity of the original 1989 design. However, Mazda and Ford continued their joint efforts, which, for Mazda, was a blessing.

It wasn’t until 2002 that the tide began to change for Mazda. The previous year had been a difficult one because new models were in development and the company would have no new products marketable until mid-2002. When the new cars arrived, the Mazda 6 and Mazda Demio had freshness and a sporty flavour that proved popular to potential buyers. This helped change the perceptions of the Mazda brand for the better. And when the sharp-looking new Mazda 3 was produced, along with the racy RX8, Mazda was again back on top with cars that had the x-factor.

Today Mazda continues to create cars that are sharp looking. As well as being practical, they tend to handle well and be fun to drive with their peppy engine units.

Perhaps you have been treated to the catchy “Zoom zoom” soundtrack for Mazda’s ads. Mazda dealers are super friendly, and can be found throughout all Australia’s main centres: Brisbane, Sydney, Adelaide, Perth and Melbourne. Best zoom-zoom down to your nearest outlet and try out the crisp handling Mazda range for yourself and see why Mazda is one of the great southern land’s top selling cars.

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