This is the story about a very unique car maker. One that takes the path less travelled. While the world accepts that combustion engines can never be improved upon, they relook into both petrol and diesel engines, and in one go, made changes that no one thought possible. This is the story of Mazda, a story that defies convention.


ustled within the confines of what was once a city demolished in its entirety, Mazda is a company that truly embodies the saying of ‘Rising from the ashes’. Famous for perhaps the wrong reasons, Mazda’s home city Hiroshima is also one that perfectly portrays the spirit of perseverance, of survival, and one with a unique viewpoint of the past, present and its own future.

As a car maker that has went through its up and downs throughout the years, Mazda transformed itself by the end of the last decade. With a holistic re-approach to car making which Mazda calls it SkyActiv, it is as much an engineering pursue as it is a philosophical belief. In one go, Mazda took the rethinking process to the extremes, by redesigning how their cars were made, creating unheard of engines, transmission architectures that combines the torque converter of an automatic, with a clutch from manual transmissions etc; using unique solutions to solve problems everyone thought are dead ends of engineering.

The engineering breakthroughs of SkyActiv however, seems to have taken its toll on the continuous viability of the rotary engine. As much as it is a Mazda hallmark, rotary engines seems to have met its limit as the world continues to tighten rules and regulation as well as taxation on emissions. While Mazda focused greatly on the groundbreaking SkyActiv cars, the persistence of Mazda to deter itself from fitting a conventional engine into the legendary RX line of sports cars meant that the long running RX-8 risked not having a successor. The inevitable demise of the rotary engine seems to be on the horizon, and nothing hurts Mazda themselves more than seeing the rotary engine's departure.

Just as the world lives on for half a decade without a new rotary engine buzzing off Mazda's production line, it seems they've been hard at work with the debut of the RX-Vision last year. Serving as glimmer of hope for the loyalists, Evo documentaries decided to bring you through a short journey of Mazda's past, and the promising future that beholds.
Unveiled at last year’s Tokyo Motorshow, the Kodo-inspired RX-Vision paves the way to an all-new RX-7, and if things do go along as planned, it could even hit the market as early as 2017. Following the successful market introduction of the MX-5, Mazda is keen on doing so with this awe-inspiring concept - providing a range of succulent sports - or more - enthusiast-derived vehicles to reminisce in the good old days, and most importantly, appealing towards a shrinking fan base.

CEO Masamichi Kogai reaffirms that the rotary will make a comeback, and with a vision to bring the brand towards greater heights. The company knows it won’t be an easy task to do, but with a pledge already made, we will work steadily. “Do stay with us on this ambitious journey”, as quoted by him while everyone roost upon the concept at the motorshow.

But why 2017? Mazda says that it is the year to celebrate 50 years since they’ve launched their first ever rotary-powered sports car into the market. Besides that, it is dubbed as Mazda’s vision for the ultimate in front-engine, rear-wheel-drive sports car with a superb design to follow suit. What remains under the hood, however, is the exciting bit.

Tucked under that long bonnet is the future Skyactiv-R rotary engine. It symbolises a committing move towards a future of next generation cars that Mazda is working hard on to resolve its infamous foibles; namely fuel economy, emissions and reliability.

Though there are no given specifications to further any explanation, we do know that it is larger in displacement than the recent 13B rotary motor, which was last produced and seen in the RX-8. Mazda themselves could even possibly fit in a turbocharger to kick it up towards 400bhp to compete with the latest crowd of sports cars produced by many.

While mass production is still a distance away, Mazda never stopped research and development efforts towards the rotary engine. The next rotary engine has been named Skyactiv-R, expressing the company's determination to take on challenges with convention-defying aspirations and the latest technology, following the successful recipe set by the current Skyactiv technology.

At scale, the RX-Vision measures in 4,389mm long, and 1,925mm wide. To maintain its sleek profile in commemorating its low-profiled predecessors, the RX-Vision comes with a 1,160mm height, while a profile-boosting 2,700mm wheelbase measurement tops it all to ensure it stays as well-proportioned as possible without appearing too elongated at the forefront. As a result, the RX-Vision is slightly larger than Jaguar’s very own and appealing F-Type at skin level.

If history is taken into dialogue, the RX-Vision is the prime example that fits the sacred lineage of Rotary-powered Mazda’s in the past. As mentioned by the designers themselves, the RX-Vision takes the cake by being the most minimalist car to adopt the Kodo direction - displaying a character symbolising elegance and vitality if viewed at any angle.

Is this the same Soul Red you can get with any Mazda models readily-available at the showroom? It isn’t. In fact, the paint is customised to form a bespoke hue that exposes all visible lines present on the body while being under any source of light. On the inside, the RX-Vision is gifted with a clean, handcrafted cockpit that musters a sophisticated expression of being ‘mechanical’. Pure is the right word here to fit its already-famed oneness with machine tagline, ‘Jinba Ittai'.

Nonetheless, the RX-Vision still, and will remain a concept for now - but that doesn’t spell the end of this very historic piece. Let’s take a good look back and see how this automotive giant started off with each milestone indicated with a series of taglines used throughout the years.

“Pure is the right word here to fit its already-famed oneness with machine tagline, ‘Jinba Ittai’”


“The rise to a bright future”

It all began back in 1920, where Mazda started life as the Toyo Cork Kogyo company founded in Hiroshima. The small enterprise was a producer of cork products, and soon diversified itself by producing machines in 1927. Inevitably, the ‘Cork’ initial was removed from the corporation’s name, and Jujiro Matsuda, then-boss and founder, believed that in order to survive the era of rapid industrialisation, the company soon realised it needed an unique product strive in a challenging business environment.

By 1931, Toyo Kogyo soon embarked on a journey by designing an unusual three-wheeled truck called the Mazda-Go. It was a commercial success, mainly because of the Mazda-Go's no frills approach, its affordable price, its exceptional practicality ferrying people or goods, as well as its reliability. The 'wind-in-your-face' three wheeled Mazda-Go became the choice of families and businesses during that time. During the war, like any Japanese manufacturers at the time, Toyo Kogyo was forced to halt the production of Mazda-Go for the manufacturing of rifles instead.

By a stroke of luck, Toyo Kogyo was spared from the crosshairs of allied forces during the war, and it remained intact till today with its location being far out from the city centre when the Little Boy atomic bomb was dropped by the famed ‘Enola Gay’ Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber. Nevertheless, Toyo Kogyo soon returned to business by resuming production of the Mazda-Go.

Above: Jujiro Matsuda    Below: Toyo Kogyo factory in Hiroshima

As time passed, Jujiro announced his resignation, and named his son, Tsuneji Matsuda as the immediate successor to the recovering company. Without Tsuneji’s interest in the manufacturing of automobiles, we won’t be able to witness Mazda today as he played a pivotal role in transforming the corporation that soon garnered a formidable profit to persevere into the future.

Though the ‘Mazda’ name was formally adopted in the mid-1980s, Toyo Kogyo adopted the name ever since - even way before their first passenger vehicle after forming a technological pact with Acme Resin that enabled Toyo Kogyo’s vision for its first mass-produced vehicle, the R360 supermini in the late-1950s. Soon, Mazda expanded the lineup by introducing the Carol, a little saloon that was designed with a choice of either two or four doors.

Above: Production of the Mazda-Go    Below: Mazda 360 Carol Deluxe

“Without Tsuneji’s interest in the manufacturing of automobiles, we won’t be able to witness Mazda today...”


“the more you look,
the more you like”

Tsuneji’s interest soon began to reform towards the orbitally-rotating Rotary Wankel motor founded by German inventor, Felix Wankel. In essence, the Rotary invention is based on a principle that involves a single rotor that is shaped triangularly, rotating around the combustion chamber, and topped-off with a gear at the axis. Though the concept was smoother and better performing in operation than conventional engines, it didn’t appeal to many, but Tsuneji was keen on pursuing that execution for his company.

Thanks to his engineers, Mazda soon believed that it was possible to manufacture the Rotary engine in a large scale, despite optimists presuming that it will be accurately hard to be machined in a huge production scale. With that, Tsuneji soon finalised an agreement with NSU Wankel, the firm that patented the Wankel engine, and later on, receiving the green light to further develop the engine with design works soon commenced back in Hiroshima.

Putting all Rotary fascinations aside, Toyo Kogyo was riveting on growing its range of vehicles to meet the growing automotive market. Following the success of its Carol saloon and celebrating their one-millionth vehicle produced, Toyo Kogyo introduced the new Mazda 800. The Bertone-styled model soon became the cornerstone that formed the extremely-successful Familia nameplate later down the road.

Marketed with a choice of bodystyles, the Familia started off life as a two-door van. Following the years of demand for plusher vehicles, Toyo Kogyo then soon introduced a four-door sedan, and followed by a two-door coupe. All car versions of the Familia 800 were equipped with a slew of chrome trims and foglights in the grille, and it is powered by a 782cc SA four-stroke aluminium engine with four cylinders. For the coupe however, Toyo Kogyo has slotted in a more potent 985cc PC motor later was shared with the sophisticated-looking Luce.

Above: Tsuneji Matsuda    Below: Felix Wankel

Top left & right: Mazda Familia 800 & Mazda Luce    Below: Mazda's 12AN2 rotary engine

The Familia was immediately welcomed with open arms. It was so well-received that Mazda even exported the aforementioned model to Australia. In total, Toyo Kogyo built 400,000 of them as a result, and later introduced an all-new successor to cope with the growing demand. Production for diesel engines were also mooted across the board, and with a pact made with diesel-specialist Perkins Services, Toyo Kogyo then launched the B-series compact pickup truck for the commercial market.

After years of research and development, Toyo Kogyo knew it was the right time for the Rotary engine to hit the showroom floors - and without shilly shallying around - history was soon recorded with the introduction of the Rotary-propelled Cosmo Sports 110S coupe. Being the very first Mazda model to do so, it was inaugurated at the prestigious 1964 Tokyo Motorshow with 20 units made for Toyo Kogyo’s test department, and 60 allocated for dealership tests. Full production started in 1967, and the Cosmo was marketed towards the early 1970s.

The hand-build Cosmos were produced in batches, and for the first allocation, Toyo Kogyo made 343 examples - with Series II numbering at 1176 units as followed. The Series I produced 110bhp from its rather miniscule 982cc Rotary motor, but then engineers soon bumped the engine to an impressive 130bhp for all Series II models after extensive durability tests were conducted at the 84-hour Marathon de la Route in Germany’s gruelling Nürburgring circuit.

Having NSU and Citroen ceasing the Rotary engine development and GM scrapping their Wankel-powered prototype Corvettes during that era, Mazda then stood as the sole marque to produce the Rotary engine. Now with a globally recognised history, overseas export began instantaneously as popularity picked up, and the Cosmo was renowned for its extremely good power delivery that gave its V6 or V8-powered rivals a run for their money. Its lightweight construction played a big role in aggrandising better dynamics, too.

During this time, Mazda managed to penetrate into the American market by setting shop in Canada and North America. It was so well received that Mazda even made a rotary-powered Pickup solely for American buyers, which is based on the B-series. Production soon ended in 1977, but most importantly, Mazda remains the only automotive brand in history to do so with a pickup truck bodyshell till today. Success then continued with more newer models introduced, namely the Rotary-powered R100 Familia Coupe, the exquisite RX-2 Capella, RX-3 Savanna, and the RX-4 Luce.

"Mazda remains the only automotive brand in history to do so with a pickup truck bodyshell till today."

Top to bottom: Mazda Cosmo Sport, Proceed B1500, RX-2 R5, 323, RX-5


“experience mazda”

Having experienced the oil embargo implemented by OPEC and with the Rotary engine falling in popularity due to its inefficient fuel consumption, Toyo Kogyo soon experienced a moment of peril as most manufacturers began shifting towards economical stratified engines to cater buyers that are on the lookout for a frugal vehicle. Mazda knew that it was time to join forces with another automotive giant in order to pull through a period of uncertainty - and the company that agreed to that collaboration was Ford.

Now with a slump in production and sales, Tsuneji’s successor Kohei Matsuda appears to be less favourable to the eyes of Sumitomo, which still is the principle of Toyo Kogyo. Due to this, Kohei was forced to step down from his position, and it subsequently ended the Matsuda dynasty at Toyo Kogyo.

Deals soon began to solidify with American automotive giant Ford, and with the latter acquiring a large stake for $135 million, leaving Ford with a 24.5 percent share of Toyo Kogyo. This move signalled the start of Mazda co-developing vehicles with Ford. In 1982, Toyo Kogyo changed its name to Mazda Motor Corporation to reflect the sales success of its vehicles since formation.

"In 1982, Toyo Kogyo changed its name to Mazda Motor Corporation to reflect the sales success of its vehicles since formation."

Above: Kohei Matsuda

From top left to bottom right: Mazda 323 3-door, 323 5-door, 626, RX-7 Savanna

Now with production reaching a grand total of 15 million cars, and to keep the momentum alight, Mazda soon began introducing a string of new models; starting with the RX-7 which indirectly replaced the baroque-looking RX-5 Cosmo, the Accord-rivalling 626 saloon and a flagship 929-range. Continuous dedication towards the Rotary power plant remained firm, but in order to expand its sports car lineup powered with a conventional engine, Mazda then launched the extremely-successful Miata, or widely-known as the MX-5 globally, to the market.

Following the ‘Jinba Ittai’ concept, MX-5 is widely revered for its sublime handling and perfect weight balance. Alongside, it was also accredited as the modern-day small sports car that represented the demise for one, where most of them were discontinued back in the 1970s due to a worsening market situation. Years down the road, the MX-5 was soon recognised as the world’s most successful-selling sports car in history - both on road and for the racetrack.

1988 - 1990

“An intense commitment to your total satisfaction,
that’s The Mazda Way”

Under Norimasa Futura, Mazda sharpened its focus on developing more new vehicles for some specific markets. Amati was formed as a separate luxury brand, and it was primed to rival the likes of Toyota’s Lexus and Honda’s Acura in the American market. But plans were scrapped for Amati, and Mazda shifted its concentration on by completing a new AutoAlliance factory in Flat Rock, Michigan. Soon, the American-market MX-6-based Ford Probe made its American market debut.

Now in the era of joint projects, the Ranger was immediately introduced as a rebadged cousin of Mazda’s very own B-series pickup truck. In a bid to reach other markets, Ford assisted Mazda in enhancing its manufacturing capacity, and the Mazda 121, a rebadged variant of the Fiesta, did fare well in markets such as Europe and South Africa. However, most vehicles are still made in Japan for export, and it remained quite a struggle for Mazda to meet scrupulous import restrictions.

Above: Mazda MX-5  Bottom (left to right): Mazda 121 & MX-6

1990 - 1995


Despite relieving some sales success from the new line of Familia models and the legendary MX-5, Mazda’s US market share remained low with the domestic market trending in at a similar rate. They knew it was time to replace its dull and fairly normal cars with something more exciting for the prospering 1990s. A takeover by Ford was soon conceptualised, and Henry D.G Wallace was named as the first non-Japanese to head a corporation.

A new 929 Sentia was introduced, and it boasted a whole new design language for the marque. It was regarded as a premium product locally in Japan, and Mazda did marketed the Sentia through its short-lived Efini network - a dealership that focuses on selling premium cars. Mazda even played a role in cooperating with Ford to develop the Explorer SUV. In return, Ford allowed Mazda to rebadged the Explorer as the Navajo, which came as a two-door derivative of the Explorer for the American market. Marketing of the B-series as a rebadged variant of the Ranger soon commenced alongside the Navajo for sales in the region as well.

From Top: Mazda RX-7 FD  Bottom: Mazda Eunos Cosmo

Citing rear-wheel drive vehicles as inefficient in comparison to FWD cars, Mazda then embarked on a journey to the lucrative American market once more with its very impressive Millenia saloon - a direct replacement over its 929 Sentia. The futuristic Eunos Cosmo also made headlines, as it was designed with a slew of futuristic technologies that were way ahead of its time. To reinforce that claim, the Eunos Cosmo featured a seamless wraparound cockpit, and a touchscreen CRT media interface.

The Rotary motor soon made another return with the sleek-looking RX-7 coupe, and it was the first mass-produced Rotary vehicle to be sequentially twin-turbocharged. During its production lifetime, Mazda made 65,589 units of the RX-7 FD. It won numerous awards from major publications worldwide, and it formed the basis that brought Mazda’s first ever win at Le Mans with their Rotary-powered 787B. Till today, Mazda still retains the title of being the only Japanese manufacturer to win the 24 hours race.

Above: Mazda Millennia  Below: Mazda B4000

"The futuristic Eunos Cosmo also made headlines, as it was designed with a slew of futuristic technologies that were way ahead of its time."

1996 - 1999

"passion for the road" and
"get in, be moved"

To spur slumping demands and sales in the domestic market, Mazda soon introduced the Demio, subcompact wagon that brought market confidence in to consolidated its net loss. The marque even reconstructed its North American sector with four subsidiaries, and introduced the new Capella sedan and station wagon. Despite gas prices still remaining at an all-time low, Mazda’s Corolla-rivalling Protegé saloon was proven to be hit amongst the growing crowd of young drivers - all thanks to its popular MazdaSpeed derivative.

A redesigned MX-5 soon made its debut, and Mazda soon enjoyed importing models into the country during the Yen’s devaluation. To cash in on the growing pickup truck market in the Southeast Asian market, Mazda soon expanded its business into Thailand by building another plant that specialises in manufacturing both Ford and Mazda-badged trucks for the region.

Above: Mazda 323 F  Below (from left to right):  Mazda 323 P & 323 MPS Concept

Above (from left to right): Mazda Capella Sedan & Demio Below:  Mazda 626 Hatchback

2000 - Present

"zoom zoom"

The crossover boom was a time where Mazda brought us the Tribute - a family-friendly mid-sized SUV that is rebadged from the original Ford Escape. Though it performed extremely well in the American market, it wasn’t doing so back home. The existing lineup is ageing, and it was time for Mazda to look into a full regeneration to broaden its appeal both locally and globally.

As a result, Mazda went on a full-scale model refresh with the all-new Mazda2 compact, Mazda3, and the good-looking Mazda6. Earlier batches of the Mazda2 compact was manufactured in Valencia, Spain, and it was the trebuchet that brought the marque into a new era with the “Zoom Zoom” tagline, which is still in use till today.

Right: Current Boss and visionary Masamichi Kogai

In order to fill the RX-7’s discontinuation, Mazda brought us the new, and still Rotary-powered RX-8 in 2003. It was a revelation as it adopted a totally new design with four doors, in which it features a pillar-less mid-section with suicide doors for access. It was designed to accommodate four adults in full comfort, too. Powering upfront is a 13B 1.3-litre Renesis Wankel Rotary motor, and it was thoroughly enhanced to reduce emissions and improve fuel quality - despite being a little less powerful than the original turbocharged 13B-REW motor last seen in the RX-7.

It was globally accepted, and the Renesis was awarded the International Engine of the Year for 2003 in the 2.5 to 3.0-litre category - although Mazda still designates it as a 1.3-litre. In theory, the Renesis contains two Wankel Rotors with each displacing at 1.3-litres - hence bringing the factual figure to 2.6-litres.

As the global economy slowed down once again in the fall of 2008, Ford announced that it will be selling off its stake in Mazda to streamline its asset base. The deal went through, and as reported by economists worldwide, it was a move that ended a great era of alliance between Mazda and Ford globally, as it saved Mazda close to $90 million a year in development costs, and considerably even more for Ford.

Nonetheless, awards and customer acceptance still flowed in. Mazda has accumulated a grand total of 129 awards throughout the years with its extremely-successful model line up. Now growing in an tense environment that prioritises fuel economy and low emissions, Mazda then soon introduced its new line of Skyactiv engines to the market. The CX-5 is the first production model to do so in a completely-new bodyshell that adheres towards the Kodo design philosophy.

The Skyactiv-G proves that it doesn’t need a hybrid system to enhance fuel consumption. It is a family of direct-injection engines that comes with an impressively high compression rate of 14:1 - a figure that outnumber Ferrari’s very own 458 supercar. Combined with a 4-2-1 exhaust system, the engine optimises residual gases, and reduces the risk of engine knock at extreme compression. All Skyactiv-G engines are either paired with a manual or automatic transmission. Mazda even made a diesel variant badged as the Skyactiv-D for certain markets.

Eventually, this brings us to 2011 with Mazda achieving a healthy capitalisation of 150 billion Yen, and the firm is looking forward to develop more technologies in the near future by making a pact with Toyota to further develop hydrogen fuel cell systems. As we speak now at present, Mazda has already achieved a gross revenue of 2.3 trillion Yen, and that figure is growing.

With this, it is a proud moment to say that Mazda is heading towards a bright future. Want to know why? Then do take a good look at their bold vision for the future we’ve mentioned at the beginning. We can’t wait to see what’s in store for Mazda’s rotary future as well, and we do believe that it will be back better, stronger and more sophisticated than ever. We aren’t resting our laurels yet, and the Skyactiv tech has proven a point that electrification is no saving grace. Time will only tell.

"...Mazda has already achieved a gross revenue of 2.3 trillion Yen, and that figure is growing."

Left: Mazda Millennia  Right: Mazda B4000

Above: Current Boss and visionary Masamichi Kogai