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The Stories Behind 20 Famous Car Logos

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Before brand management and public relations and marketing and advertising firms dominated the process of creating company logos, there were family crests and city flags and mistresses to draw inspiration from. Here’s a look at the history of some of the world’s most iconic car logos. 

1. Toyota 

No, that’s not a weird cowboy hat on the front of that Camry. In 1989, to mark the company’s 50th anniversary, Toyota redesigned its logo, incorporating three overlapping ovals, with the inner two forming a stylized T and a steering wheel, as well as representing how the “customers' expectations [horizontal] and car manufacturer's ideal [vertical] . . . are firmly interlocked to form the letter T," according to the company. The outermost oval represents the world embracing Toyota. 

There is also a hidden meaning inside the logo. Popular theories say that owing to the company’s founding as an industrial loom maker (Toyoda Automatic Loom Works), the inner oval is actually a needle, leaving space for an invisible thread to pass through. The internet is also full of claims that you can spell out Toyota using just the logo.

2. Cadillac 

The American luxury takes its name from French explorer Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, the founder of Detroit, and the company crest is based on the Cadillac family coat of arms (which the explorer may have invented himself). The symbols included three colored bands (representing boldness, virtue and valor), a crown, a wreath, and several small Merganser ducks. Earlier versions of the Cadillac logo included the ducks, which have since been removed.

3. Audi 

Like many automobile manufacturers, Audi consolidated multiple companies into a single business during the 20th century. An early logo shows the four original company names (Audi, DKW, Horch and Wanderer) each within their own ring. The text disappeared, but the interlocking rings have remained. 

4. BMW 

Contrary to Jamal Wallace’s sardonic explanation in the film Finding Forrester, the blue and white roundel does not represent a plane's white propellers against a blue sky in a nod to Bavarian Motor Works’ roots in constructing aircraft engines in the early 20th century. That myth originated with a 1929 magazine advertisement, BMW spokesman Tom Plucinsky told The New York Times in 2010. The real story is less exciting—the blue and white are merely an ode to the Bavarian flag.  

5. Subaru 

In Japanese, subaru is the name of the Pleiades star cluster M45 in the Taurus constellation, one of the nearest star clusters visible to the naked eye. Officially, the first president of the company felt it was a beautiful Japanese word, but it might also be related to the six companies that merged in 1953 to form Fuji Heavy Industries, the parent company of Subaru.

6. Chevrolet 

Accounts differ on what inspired Chevrolet and General Motors co-founder William C. Durant to help him create the car company’s famous bowtie logo. Some say Durant had a dream stirred by a wallpaper design from a French hotel; or, according to his daughter, it was a random design he sketched on a tablecloth. Other origin stories say it was "borrowed" from a newspaper advertisement seen by Durant and his wife, Catherine, on vacation in Hot Springs, Virginia in 1912, or was modeled on the flag of Switzerland, in honor of the birthplace of his partner, Swiss race car driver Louis Chevrolet. 

7. Mercedes-Benz 

Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft trademarked a pair of star logos in 1909 for its German automobiles, one with three points and one with four, but the four-pointed star was never utilized. The iconic three-pointed star was inspired by a symbol Gottleib Daimler would use, and represented the hopes of Mercedes-Benz, renamed after a 1926 merger, to establish motorized domination in three places: The sea, air and land. Kind of like Navy SEALs.

8. Saab 

The mythical red griffin crowned in gold represents the Swedish province of Scania, or Skane, the original location of Swedish car and truck manufacturer AB Skania-Vabis, which merged with Saab Automobile in 1969. The griffin symbol was not used on Saab vehicles until 1984. After GM bought Saab in 2000, they redesigned the logo, and under some form of agreement both companies used the griffin, even though the trademark stayed with Scania. After Saab’s bankruptcy and eventual purchase by National Electric Vehicle Sweden, Scania decided to not let the new Saab use the logo. As a result, Saabs today have a simple text logo.

9. Volvo 

The ancient symbol for the Roman god Mars has long been associated with weapons and warfare, and is also the alchemist symbol for iron. The Swedish company, known for its safe, sturdy vehicles, adopted the iron badge when it began manufacturing cars in the 1920s. 

10. Maserati 

The Italian company was headed by three brothers, but it was a fourth Maserati brother, artist Mario, who created the company logo. He designed a trident based on the statue of the Roman god Neptune in the Piazza Maggiore in Bologna, and added red and blue to acknowledge that city.

11. Porsche 

The Porsche logo combines elements from two coats of arms: the Free State of Württemberg in western Germany, and its former capital, Stuttgart. 

12. Buick 

The Detroit-based company’s first real logo borrowed heavily from the ancestral homeland of founder David Dunbar Buick, incorporating elements like a Scottish coat of arms, including a large crest, gold cross, and deer head. In 1959 the red, white and blue tri-shield emerged, representing the LeSabre, Invicta, and Electra models that made up the day’s Buick lineup. 

13. Ferrari 

Italian racecar driver Enzo Ferrari was asked to paint a prancing horse (cavallino rampante) on his vehicles to honor fighter pilot and World War I hero Count Francesco Barraca, who painted a similar horse on his plane. Ferrari founded the Scuderia Ferrari racing team in 1929 and kept the horse emblem, adding bright yellow to the background for his home city of Modena.   

14. Mitsubishi 

Mitsu means three in Japanese, while hishi, or bishi, refers to the diamond- or rhombus-shaped water chestnut plant. The Mitsubishi logo references the family crest of founder Yatoro Iwasaki and the logo of his first employer, the Yamanouchi, or Tosa Clan. 

15. Peugeot 

Originally a French grain mill, Peugeot diversified into steel production, tool and bicycle making, and, by the late 1890s, automobile manufacturing. Brothers Jules and Emile commissioned a logo in the mid-19th century to be used on all its products. The lion emblem was first added to a car model in 1905, and has become increasingly stylized since then, with the more abstract lion first appearing in 1975.

16. Infiniti 

A luxury spinoff from Nissan, Infiniti debuted two models in 1989, and the Japanese brand furthered the “infinity” concept in its logo with two central lines in the center of a badge, symbolizing a road leading into a vast unknown landscape.

17. Rolls-Royce 

The “Spirit of Ecstasy” mascot that sits atop the front grille of the British luxury cars is thought to be taken from an earlier sculpture called “The Whisperer,” modeled on actress Eleanor Thornton. Sculptor Charles Sykes was commissioned to create a logo for Lord John Montagu’s Rolls-Royce, who supposedly urged Sykes to utilize Thornton as his muse. Later, Sykes was asked to create a mascot for all Rolls-Royces, and gave them a modified version of the one he made for Montagu. Accompanying Montagu, who was dispatched to India during World War I, Thornton—who may or may not have been in a relationship with the married Montagu—died in 1915 when the SS Persia was struck by a torpedo from a German U-Boat. The “Spirit of Ecstasy” would not become standard on Rolls-Royces until the 1920s.

18. Chrysler 

The classic Chrysler pentastar, created in 1962 by designer Robert Stanley, was phased out after the company was purchased by Fiat in 2014. The modern wing logo is based on the original Chrysler logo, which has been used at various times since the company’s inception in 1925 and references the Roman god Mercury. 

19. Alfa Romeo

Quite possibly the most mysterious car logo, the cross and man-eating snake can be traced to the Italian city of Milan and its former ruling family, the Viscontis. As Jalopnik reported, Otone Visconti, a Milanese Knight, fought in the First Crusades and may or may not have defeated a Saracen in battle and taken the symbol of a snake devouring a man from his vanquished foe’s shield. Alfa, for its part, claims that the snake isn’t eating the man, but that the man is instead coming out of the snake renewed.

20. Lamborghini 

Legend has it that as the company was being conceived, founder Ferrucio Lamborghini was on the Miura Ranch, where bullfighting bulls were bred. A noted bullfighting enthusiast, founder Ferrucio Lamborghini’s birthday also fell under the Taurus astrological sign.

All images courtesy of Getty Images.

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Design Firm Envisions the Driverless School Bus of the Future
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Engineers have already designed vehicles capable of shuttling pizzas, packages, and public transit passengers without a driver present. But few have considered how this technology can be used to transport our most precious cargo: kids. Though most parents would be hesitant to send their children on a bus with no one in the driver's seat, one design firm believes autonomous vehicle technology can change their rides for the better. Their new conceptual project, called Hannah, illustrates their ideas for the future of school bus travel.

As Co.Design reports, Seattle-based design firm Teague tackled both the practical challenges and the social hurdles when designing their driverless school bus. Instead of large buses filled with dozens of kids, each Hannah vehicle is designed to hold a maximum of six passengers at a time. This offers two benefits: One, fewer kids on the route means the bus can afford to pick up each student at his or her doorstep rather than a designated bus stop. Facial recognition software would ensure every child is accounted for and that no unwanted passengers can gain access.

The second benefit is that a smaller number of passengers could help prevent bullying onboard. Karin Frey, a University of Washington sociologist who consulted with the team, says that larger groups of students are more likely to form toxic social hierarchies on a school bus. The six seats inside Hannah, which face each other cafeteria table-style, would theoretically place kids on equal footing.

Another way Hannah can foster a friendlier school bus atmosphere is inclusive design. Instead of assigning students with disabilities to separate cars, everyone can board Hannah regardless of their abilities. The vehicle drives low to the ground and extends a ramp to the road when dropping off passengers. This makes the boarding and drop-off process the same for everyone.

While the autonomous vehicles lack human supervisors, the buses can make up for this in other ways. Hannah can drive both backwards and forwards and let out children on either side of the car (hence the palindromic name). And when the bus isn’t ferrying kids to school, it can earn money for the district by acting as a delivery truck.

Still, it may be a while before you see Hannah zipping down your road: Devin Liddel, the project’s head designer, says it could take at least five years after driverless cars go mainstream for autonomous school buses to start appearing. All the regulations that come with anything involving public schools would likely prevent them from showing up any sooner. And when they do arrive, Teague suspects that major tech corporations could be the ones to finally clear the path.

"Could Amazon or Lyft—while deploying a future of roving, community-centric delivery vehicles—take over the largest form of mass transit in the United States as a sort of side gig?" the firm's website reads. "Hannah is an initial answer, a prototype from the future, to these questions."

[h/t Co.Design]

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Wisconsin Considers Building a Highway Lane for Self-Driving Cars
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Self-driving cars are already a reality, as companies like Google and Tesla have demonstrated. But the logistics of getting them on the roads with human-operated cars have slowed down their long-anticipated takeover. In Wisconsin, highway planners are looking into one way to accommodate autonomous vehicles when they arrive. Dedicated lanes for driverless cars are being considered for I-94, USA Today’s Journal Sentinel reports.

The project is supported by Foxconn, the Taiwanese tech supplier building a new facility 20 miles outside of downtown Milwaukee. Once the site is complete, it will cover 20 million square feet and employ up to 13,000 people. According to the company, setting aside space for self-driving vehicles could ease traffic congestion, both from new workers and cargo trucks, after the factory opens.

Officials were already planning to expand I-94 from six lanes to eight to accommodate the eventual increase in traffic, but Foxconn says that may not be enough. “We’re thinking about two years down the road; they’re thinking 20 years down the road,” Tim Sheehy, president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, said at a meeting of the Greater Milwaukee Committee.

While Sheehy said the autonomous car lane proposal is “on the table,” he didn’t make any promises regarding the plan’s future. Wisconsin isn’t the only state looking ahead to new developments in road travel: In October, tech investors pitched an idea to Washington state officials to convert Interstate 5 into a corridor for autonomous vehicles between Seattle and Vancouver.

[h/t Journal Sentinel]

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