Editor's note: This story is part of a special section on the 100th anniversary of Mazda to be published in the Jan. 27 print edition of Automotive News.
In the mid-1960s, Japanese goods such as motorcycles, cameras, watches and consumer electronics were starting to shed their post-World War II era image for shoddy quality. American consumers were finding many Japanese products to be innovative, cleverly designed, attractive, reliable and affordable. But it would take longer for Japanese automobiles to gain traction outside of Japan.
In 1961, Toyota suffered the public embarrassment of having to withdraw its Toyopet brand of cars from the United States after the Crown and Tiara sedans failed. Nissan barely had a toehold in the United States, selling a few hundred Datsun-brand pickups and sports cars a year. Tsuneji Matsuda, president of Toyo Kogyo — Mazda's original corporate name — knew his tiny company stood a better chance of competing in global markets if it had technology that was not only different from its competitors, but also very innovative. That's when Matsuda turned to the rotary engine.