CORK isn't something often associated with the automotive industry but for Mazda it's a sustainable material that features in the brand's past and future.
It's a little-known fact that the company began life in 1920 as Toyo Cork Kogyo and the forthcoming Mazda MX-30 makes a design nod to the company's founding business with the use of cork in the cabin.
As Mazda celebrates its centenary, using cork to line the floating centre console and inner door handle trim of its first battery electric production car is a tribute to a material that set-in motion the enterprise that become Mazda Corporation.
The only car company that started life as a cork producer, Mazda's hometown of Hiroshima is a big part of why this material was key to the founding of the company.
With cork trees abundant in the region around Hiroshima and the local shipbuilding industry in full swing, sourcing cork from these trees for use in wooden ships was an obvious business to pursue.
After a successful career in engineering in Osaka, Mazda's founder Jujiro Matsuda, having started as an apprentice blacksmith, launched his own metal casting company in his native city of Hiroshima and joined Toyo Cork Kogyo as a board member in 1921.
Although his expertise was in machinery and engineering, he quickly proved his worth with several innovations including the production of pressed cork boards.
Despite some initial setbacks, Jujiro - who would eventually take the post of president - succeeded in bringing new cork products to market including insulation and cushioning materials.
After renaming the company Toyo Kogyo in 1927, he led the company into machinery manufacturing, which ultimately led to the production of three-wheeled trucks, building the basis of the Mazda of today.
As the engineering part of the company grew, Jujiro decided to divest the cork element of business to another cork manufacturer, Uchiyama Manufacturing Corp, based in Okayama, east of Hiroshima., who took it off Toyo Kogyo's hands in 1944.
As well as assuming control of the cork manufacturing factories and machines, Uchiyama requested that Toyo Kogyo invest in the business, which led to the formation of Toyo Cork.
Given this history, the design team of the Mazda MX-30 turned to cork and the present-day Uchiyama Kogyo company when looking for a sustainable, stylish and durable material to use in the cabin of Mazda's first battery electric production car.
Mazda MX-30, chief designer, Youichi Matsuda said: "When Toyo Cork Kogyo was created, technologies in plastics and rubber had not been developed as far as they are today, so cork was used as an alternative material for gaskets and walls back then. But after the Second World War, production of rubber and plastics on an industrial scale meant cork gradually took a backseat as a large-scale industrial material. But with it occupying such a significate place in Mazda's history it's only right we chose it for the MX-30 cabin."
Harvested from the bark of cork trees without felling the trees themselves, the cork used in the MX-30 is formed with a high-quality coating and backing material to ensure it has the durability and quality expected in a Mazda cabin.
With 2020 being Mazda's centenary year, the timing of cork's return to Mazda is a fitting reminder of the company's origins.
When the MX-30 arrives early next year drivers will get to enjoy the significance of cork as part of the car's cabin.
The debut model in the MX-30 range, the Mazda MX-30 First Edition is limited to 500 examples in the UK and is currently available to pre-order priced from £30,495 - £27,495 inclusive of the Government's OLEV grant.
Prices for the rest of the Mazda MX-30 range to be announced later this year.