Some of the most iconic and well-known logos that we see on a daily basis come from vehicle manufacturers. They are memorable, easily tied to their company and often surrounded by myth and folklore. Most traditional carmakers didn’t solicit advertising firms for help, and brand management teams were still decades away. They did it on their own, taking inspiration from everything from city flags and family crests to muses and even mistresses. Let’s have a look at some of them.
Some have said the Toyota logo looks like a bull with horns or even a cowboy wearing a hat, but it really is three overlapping ovals, which the inner ovals that form a centralized T and a steering wheel. According to Toyota, the vertical oval represents its ideal and the horizontal oval represents the customers’ expectations, which together are inside the larger oval, which represents our planet that appears to be embracing Toyota. Additionally, the logo pays tribute to Toyota’s founding, Toyoda Automatic Loom Works, where the ovals symbolize a sewing needle’s head. Some people believe that you can actually use parts and fragments of the logo to actually write out 'Toyota'.
Some people think the crowned red bird in the SAAB logo is an eagle, but it is actually a Griffin wearing a golden crown. This symbol represents a Swedish province called Scania, also called Skane, which was the original location of AB Scania-Vabis, the Swedish car and truck producer. AB Scania-Vabis and Saab Automobile merged in 1969 to form SAAB as we know it. SAAB only started using the Griffin logo on their vehicles in 1984. When SAAB was bought in 2000 by GM, the logo was redesigned. National Electric Vehicle Sweden bought the SAAB car brand in 2012, however, they failed to acquire the rights to the iconic Griffin logo, forcing SAAB to redesign their logo. Choosing a logo that more closely resembled their pre-Griffin stylings, SAAB was once again re-born, but without their Griffin.
Despite the Cadillac being an icon of American luxury cars, its name pays tribute to a French explorer who founded the city of Detroit, Michigan, where Cadillac was founded. The Cadillac logo is based on Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac’s family coat of arms. It is said that the French explorer might have created his own family coat of arms. The original coat of arms featured symbols that are intended to represent valor, virtue, and boldness as well as a wreath, a crown and a number of Merganser ducks. These fowl were actually part of the earliest Cadillac company logos but were later on removed.
Contrary to what one might think in the present day, Volvo's logo does not symbolize a man’s car or even an insane chauvinist statement suggesting that men should own and drive cars. Yes, the Volvo logo is virtually identical to the symbol we are talking about, but the circle with an arrow pointed to the top right has ancient ties to the Roman God, Mars. Traditionally, Mars represented peace through war but was also the guardian of agriculture. Early alchemists used the same symbol to also represent iron. This Swedish automaker, adopted the symbol to signify strength and safety that were primary characteristics of their vehicles. The Volvo symbol came into use with the company’s first car production in the 1920s.
Maserati was founded by three Italian brothers and their logo features a trident. Naturally, it is often assumed that the points of the trident represent the three founding brothers, but this could not be further from the truth. The trident symbol was chosen by a fourth brother, Mario, who was an artist, and who did not participate at all in founding the company. Mario was inspired by The Fountain of Neptune, found in the Piazza Maggiore in Bologna. The fountain features a statue of Neptune, the Roman God of Water, holding his hand out as if soothing the seas while holding his mythological trident. The red and blue in the logo are to pay tribute to Bologna’s colors.
The ever so memorable quadruple ring Audi logo actually contained all four names of the auto companies that in the early 20th century, merged to form present-day Audi as we know it. In the earliest version of the company logo, each company name was written inside a ring from left to right in alphabetical order. Just try to remember all four: “Audi, DKW, Horch, and Wanderer”. With time, it simply made sense for the public to just refer to the first name, ‘Audi’, which coincidentally has four letters, which also creates a greater association to the four inter-connected silver rings. Some things are just best if kept simple. With this social phenomena, all names were removed, just leaving Audi with the four silver rings.
It is not uncommon for stories that seem to make sense to become accepted by the public. Some refer to this as the Mandela effect. The cinema often is the culprit for people’s false memories as can be verified in Finding Forrester, where Jamal Wallace explained that the blue and white roundel actually symbolized a plane’s white propellers in the blue sky, to pay tribute to a supposed BMW history in building aircraft engines at the beginning of the 20th century, which was simply an advertising technique to draw attention to the brand in 1929. In reality, the white and blue are simply a tribute to the Bavarian flag's colors.
This is one of the most iconic Japanese car makers. Literally, Subaru is the Japanese name for the Pleiades star cluster M45 which is located in the Taurus constellation. This star cluster can be seen with the naked eye. The first Subaru president felt that Subaru was a beautiful word in Japanese and decided to name the automaker after it. The star cluster is depicted in the company logo as well. Subaru is also the result of six companies that joined to form Fiji Heavy Industries, which later created the Subaru division. Some suggest that the word ‘Subaru’ is an anagram representation of the six original companies.
Chevrolet, or Chevy, is possibly the most mysterious car logo because there are so many stories about it. There are counts that William C. Durant was inspired by a wallpaper design that he saw in a French hotel. Durant’s daughter claimed that it was a random drawing her dad ended up jotting down on a tablecloth. Another story claims that the symbol was taken from a newspaper ad that Durant’s wife, Catherine, came across while on vacations in Hot Springs, VA in 1912. Perhaps the story that raises the least controversy is that the symbol was based on the Swiss flag, in order to honor Durant’s Swiss partner, Louis Chevrolet, who was a race car driver.
The Mercedes-Benz logo was actually trademarked by Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft as well as a four-pointed star that never ended up being used. The Mercedes-Benz company came to be in a 1926 merger, where the hope of the company was to provide motorized ships, planes, and vehicles to cover sea, sky, and land – each representing a point of the Mercedes-Benz logo. Although the domination of oceans, air, and land never really occurred, the Mercedes-Benz logo might actually be fully accurate one day if they expand their business or if the right merger players decide to team up to fulfill the original mission. If you think far enough ahead, that four-pointed star symbol might come in handy if they decide to make spaceships. The universe is the real limit!