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Car and Driver: Mazda Builds 1,000,000th MX-5 Miata, Wins at Roadstering, Existing

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Mazda MX-5 Miata 1 million

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Mazda’s plucky little MX-5 Miata, a car birthed unto the world in 1989 as a reliable, well-made remaster of the classic British roadster formula, may be small, but its production numbers have been big. Well, big for a small, two-seat roadster that’s been in continuous production for 27 years. After all, this is a car distinctly lacking in the universal appeal (and nameplate longevity) of autodom’s all-time sales leader, the Toyota Corolla. Yet on April 22, the Miata’s production-number odometer clicked over to a new milestone when the 1,000,000th Miata rolled off the production line in Hiroshima, Japan.

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Averaged out, this production milestone means that Mazda has sold 37,037 Miatas globally per year since 1989, numbers that in their own right might not sound that impressive. Last year, for example, Ford sold 780,354 F-series trucks. But consider that the Miata is tiny, can only hold two humans and perhaps 75 percent of their luggage, and has a folding roof. Oh, and it has only been fully redesigned three times since 1989. The only other modern vehicle with similar lasting power between widely spaced redesigns is the ever-popular Jeep Wrangler.

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Mazda’s Miata production crossed the 531,000 mark in the year 2000, the year it was declared the world’s bestselling roadster of all time, meaning it’s taken about five years longer to build the latest half-million Miatas than it did the first batch. Some may consider that a sign of waning interest in the sports car. We’d call that the Miata settling into its market niche. Just think: Back in 1989, Mazda had people clamoring for the then-new Miata, and dealers marked up prices above the MSRP. The car was a sensation, and while subsequent versions would cause less of a stir by following the same basic format, the cult following the Miata had created, as well as the little sports car’s continued excellence, established the Miata as something here to stay.

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1995 mazda mx-5 miata, 1999 mx-5 miata, and 2014 mx-5 miata-grand touring

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And that’s really the significance of the 1,000,000th Miata: The car’s continued existence, not its sales figures, is what matters in a world rapidly turning toward larger, more complicated cars with turbochargers and the ability to drive themselves. Mazda, a company that until recently was struggling financially after being dropped from Ford’s roster of global brands, didn’t need to burden itself with redesigning a $25,000, rear-drive sports car that sits on a dedicated chassis shared with nothing else in its lineup, but it went ahead and did it anyway. Not only that, the company somehow kept the car legal, meeting all safety standards worldwide, while removing weight and making it quicker and smaller. For this effort, it charged customers an inflation-adjusted few hundred bucks more for the fourth-generation, 2016 MX-5 Miata than it did for the original 1990 model. Does Mazda make any money each Miata it sells? Does it matter?

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It helps that the Miata has become inextricably linked to Mazda’s sporty image. As a uniquely attainable halo car, it’s also a rolling microcosm of Mazda the company. Buy any Mazda, and you receive a car that’s been given an uncommon attention to driving dynamics spiritually on par with what you’ll find at Porsche or BMW, but for regular dollars. You’re likely the only Mazda owner on the block.

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Indeed, Mazda’s U.S. sales are unimpressive to the point of accidental rarity, the automaker being outsold in every segment in which it competes save for the one it owns: the roadster. So is 1,000,000 examples of a single nameplate in just under 30 years worthy of praise? Everything’s relative, but if Mazda can keep the Miata an analog device that cranks a driver’s lips into a smile—and continue to distill that sense of fun into every car it makes—we have no doubt it’ll keep racking up milestones.

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