Mazda didn't have grand expectations for the Miata when it was in development in the 1980s. And being a small, resource-limited company, Mazda decided to push back the release of the Miata in favor something it thought would be a surefire hit: The MPV minivan. That's why the MPV debuted in 1988, and the Miata didn't arrive until 1989.
, Bob Hall and Tom Matano, who separately confirmed that the Miata was pushed back for the MPV. "The resources of Mazda at the time were such that you couldn’t do two new vehicles at the same time," Matano, designer of the Miata, told Jalopnik. And as Hall explained, minivans were hot sellers in Japan and the US at the time, so Mazda executives figured that the MPV was a safer bet.
Of course, we now know that the Miata was a hit on a scale no one expected, almost singlehandedly reviving interest in two-seat roadsters. And nearly 30 years later, it's going on strong, with over one million units sold. It's just funny to think that Mazda thought a somewhat late entry into the minivan market would be a bigger success than the now-legendary Miata.
This fun anecdote also reminds us how much of a risk Mazda took on the Miata. It seemingly wasn't a sensible car for a tiny company like Mazda to make at the time, but people like Hall, Matano and then-Mazda chief Kenichi Yamamoto believed in the roadster. It was a risky venture that paid off quite well.