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The Stories Behind 20 Famous Car Logos

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getty images

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.

Michael Gottschalk, AFP/Getty Images
Germany Wants to Fight Air Pollution With Free Public Transit
Michael Gottschalk, AFP/Getty Images
Michael Gottschalk, AFP/Getty Images

Getting people out of their cars is an essential part of combating climate change. By one estimate, getting people to ditch their two-car household for just one car and a public transit commute could save up to 30 percent in carbon dioxide emissions [PDF]. But how do you convince commuters to take the train or the bus? In Germany, the answer may be making all public transit free, according to The Local.

According to a letter from three of Germany's government ministers to the European Union Environment Commissioner, in 2018, Germany will test free public transit in five western German cities, including Bonn. Germany has failed to meet EU air pollution limits for several years, and has been warned that it could face heavy fines if the country doesn't clean up its air. In a report from 2017, the European Environment Agency estimated that 80,767 premature deaths in Germany in 2014 were due to air pollution.

City officials in the regions where free transport will be tested say there may be some difficulty getting ahold of enough electric buses to support the increase in ridership, though, and their systems will likely need more trains and bus lines to make the plan work.

Germany isn't the first to test out free public transportation, though it may be the first to do it on a nation-wide level. The Estonian capital of Tallinn tried in 2013, with less-than-stellar results. Ridership didn't surge as high as expected—one study found that the elimination of fares only resulted in a 1.2 percent increase in demand for service. And that doesn't necessarily mean that those new riders were jumping out of their cars, since those who would otherwise bike or walk might take the opportunity to hop on the bus more often if they don't have to load a transit card.

Transportation isn't prohibitively expensive in Germany, and Germans already ride public transit at much higher rates than people do in the U.S. In Berlin, it costs about $4 a ride—more expensive than a ride in Paris or Madrid but about what you'd pay in Geneva, and cheaper than the lowest fare in London. And there are already discounts for kids, students, and the elderly. While that doesn't necessarily mean making public transit free isn't worth it, it does mean that eliminating fares might not make the huge dent in car emissions that the government hopes it will.

What could bring in more riders? Improving existing service. According to research on transportation ridership, doing things like improving waits and transfer times bring in far more new riders than reducing fares. As one study puts it, "This seldom happens, however, since transport managers often cannot resist the idea of reducing passenger fares even though the practice is known to have less impact on ridership."

The same study notes that increasing the prices of other modes of transit (say, making road tolls and parking fees higher to make driving the more expensive choice) is a more effective way of forcing people out of their cars and onto trains and buses. But that tends to be more unpopular than just giving people free bus passes.

[h/t The Local]

Here's How Much Traffic Congestion Costs the World's Biggest Cities

Traffic congestion isn't just a nuisance for the people who get trapped in gridlock on their way to work, it’s also a problem for a city's economy, City Lab reports. According to a study from the transportation consulting firm INRIX, all that time stuck in traffic can cost the world’s major cities tens of billions of dollars each year.

The study, the largest to examine vehicle traffic on a global scale, measured congestion in 1360 cities across 38 countries. Los Angeles ranked number one internationally with drivers spending an average of 102 hours in traffic jams during peak times in a year. Moscow and New York City were close behind, both with 91 lost hours, followed by Sao Paulo in Brazil with 86 and San Francisco with 79.

INRIX also calculated the total cost to the cities based on their congestion numbers. While Los Angeles loses a whopping $19.2 billion a year to time wasted on the road, New York City takes the biggest hit. Traffic accounts for $33.7 billion lost by the city annually, or an average of $2982 per driver. The cost is $10.6 billion a year for San Francisco and $7.1 billion for Atlanta. Those figures are based on factors like the loss of productivity from workers stuck in their cars, higher road transportation costs, and the fuel burned by vehicles going nowhere.

Congestion on the highway can be caused by something as dramatic as a car crash or as minor as a nervous driver tapping their brakes too often. Driverless cars could eventually fix this problem, but until then, the fastest solution may be to discourage people from getting behind the wheel in the first place.

[h/t City Lab]


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