The logos we see on car bonnets are more than company insignia, says LOVEJEET ALEXANDER
Car owners often treat their cars like mollycoddled pets. See them running their fingers lovingly over the logo, and you’ll know these insignia on the bonnet represent not just their companies but the social status of the proud owners as well. And these are not just randomly chosen symbols. Like pictographs, each logo carries a history and a connotation. Here are some examples.
It was the first company in India to mass-produce and sell more than a million cars. Maruti undoubtedly brought in an automobile revolution to India. In the year 2007, Maruti Udyog was renamed as Maruti Suzuki India Limited. With shifting stake in the company, the trademark winged ‘M’ of the car company was replaced by spiky ‘S’ of Suzuki.
The company has rolled out over four million vehicles on Indian roads since 1954. In the year 1998 the group went in for a re-branding exercise and by 2000 all the new batches of vehicles from the house of Tatas began to sport the new three-dimensional Tata group logo. Earlier, the Indica car used to come with a straight-lined ‘T’ in the ring. The now ubiquitous blue-coloured Tata logo was designed by Wolff Olins, a London-based brand consultancy firm. The logo signifies fluidity, it may also be seen as a fountain of knowledge, also as a tree of trust under which people can take refuge.
What could a people’s car and the posh Porsche have in common? After the First World War, Germany’s economy was sagging and cars cost more than what most could afford. When Adolf Hitler rose to power, he spoke at the 1933 Berlin Auto Show of his idea to create an affordable car. Ferdinand Porsche (yes, the man behind the Porsche cars), who was designing an odd-looking yet inexpensive car, met Hitler in 1934. He was given some specifications and told that it should look like a Maikaefer — a May beetle, and was even given a sketch of the basic design. In 1938, Hitler opened the state-funded Volkswagen factory in Wolfsburg. The VW logo was supposedly designed by Franz Xavier Reimspiess, an employee of Porsche, during an office logo design competition. He was given a onetime payment of 100 Reich Marks (about $400).
Fiat was founded in 1899 by a group of investors, including Giovanni Agnelli, who later became its Managing Director. The famous Fiat “scrabble tiles” logo of the 1960s was designed by the company’s chief designer who was driving past the Fiat factory during a power outage and saw an outline of the factory’s neon sign against the dark sky.
Louis Renault was 21 when he made his first car in the backyard of his home. He soon got orders, so in 1898, along with his brothers and friends, Louis opened the company Renault in Boulogne-Billancourt, France. The first Renault logo, drawn in 1900, featured the three initials of the Renault brothers: Louis, Ferdinand and Marcel. In 1906, the logo changed to a front end of a car enclosed in a gear wheel. During the First World War, Renault manufactured light tanks for the Allies called the Renault FT-17. This was so popular that after the war, Renault actually changed its logo into a tank. The diamond shape was introduced in 1925 and remained until today. The modern Renault logo was created in 1972 by Victor Vasarely.
The plane truth about BMW is, it was an airplane engine manufacturer, until Germany was forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles following World War I, to produce airplanes. So BMW switched to making cars. Originally, their circular logo was a depiction of a rotating propeller of a Bavarian Luftwaffe aircraft which BMW used to manufacture. At that time aircrafts were painted with the colours of the Bavarian flag — white and blue. It is said the pilot saw the propeller as alternating segments of white and blue, and hence the logo.
In 1926 two car companies — Daimler-Motored-Gesellschaft (DMG) and Benz & Cie merged into Daimler-Benz.
The name Mercedes came about in 1900. A wealthy European businessman and racing enthusiast, Emil Jellinek, began selling Daimler’s cars. He wanted a faster car, and specified a new engine to be designed by Maybach and named after his 10-year-old daughter, nicknamed Merc, Spanish for ‘grace’.
The star in Daimler’s logo came from an old postcard where Gottlieb Daimler had drawn a star above the picture of his house and written that this star would one day shine over his own factory to symbolise prosperity. The three-pointed star symbolised Daimler’s ambition of making vehicles “on land, on water and in the air.” (Source: Daimler) After the merger, a new logo was designed, combining the symbols of the two companies: the three-pointed star of DMG and the laurel wreath of Benz.
German engineer August Horch, who used to work for Karl Benz, founded his automobile company A. Horch & Cie in 1899. A decade later, he was forced out of his own company. He set up yet a company in another town and continued using the Horch brand. His former partners sued him, and August Horch was forced to look for a new name. When Horch was talking to his business partner Franz Fikentscher at Franz’s apartment, Franz’s son, who was studying Latin in a corner of the room, suggested Audi. Horch in German means hark or to listen, which is Audi in Latin. The idea was enthusiastically accepted by everyone attending the meeting.
In 1932, four car makers — Audi, Horch, DKW, and Wanderer — merged to form Auto Union. The logo of Auto Union, four interlinked rings, later became the modern Audi logo.
In 1902, Ford established his third automobile company, Ford & Malcomson, Limited. In 1909, Childe Harold Wills, Ford’s first chief engineer and designer, lent a script font that he created to make his own business card, to create the Ford logo. The famous blue oval was added later for the 1927 Model A — it remains in use until today.
Mazda began its life in 1920 as the Toyo Cork Kogyo Company in Hiroshima, Japan. After the Second World War, the company formally adopted the name Mazda, which, depending on who you ask, stood for the Zoroastrian God Ahura Mazda or an anglicised pronunciation of Matsuda the founder’s name (or both). In the 1936 logo, the M shaped curve, was inspired by the emblem of Hiroshima city. The 1991 and 1992 logos symbolised a wing, the Sun and a circle of light. Mazda’s current logo, nicknamed the “owl” logo, was designed by Rei Yoshimara in 1997. The stylised “M” was meant to look like stretched wings, but many people saw a stylised tulip instead.
In 1868 one Iwasaki, a Japanese man working for the Tosa clan when the Meiji Restoration abolished Japan’s feudal clan system, acquired Tsukumo Shokai, the Tosa clan’s shipping business, and renamed it Mitsubishi in 1873. It was a fourth generation Iwasaki, a man named Kayota Iwasaki, who turned Mitsubishi into a corporate giant that included an automobile manufacturing company, Mitsubishi Motors. The name Mitsubishi was a combination of the words “mitsu” (three) and “hishi” (water chestnut, used in Japan to mean a rhombus or a diamond shape). The official translation of the name was “three diamonds.” The logo was a combination of the Iwasaki family crest, three stacked diamonds, and the three-leaf crest of the Tosa Clan.