How Car Manufacturer Logos Have Evolved Over the Last Century
Can you imagine Ford’s blue oval or Mercedes’ three-pointed star? These are some of the most recognizable logos in the world, for several reasons.
For starters, automakers are some of the biggest advertisers in the world. In 2020, the automotive industry spent $33 billion on advertising in the United States only.
Automakers also maintain a strong physical presence by putting their logo on every car they produce. This form of self-promotion is an automotive tradition, and because of this, car logos are designed to be eye-catching and memorable.
To find out more, we have illustrated the stories of six expressions of interest.
Editor’s note: There are obviously many automotive brands with strong stories, but for this visualization, we selected brands that we felt had the most interesting stories and graphic decisions behind their emblems. In the future, we may add more or create a follow-up post if readers express interest.
A closer look at car logos
Car manufacturers often incorporate hidden meanings and details into their logos.
For example, Mazda The current logo, introduced in 1997 and updated in 2015, depicts a pair of wings that represent the brand’s desire to “generate powerful and continuous growth”. The flight concept is believed to embody the company’s pursuit of continuous improvement. Of course, the fenders also look like a capital “M” for Mazda, similar to Honda’s “H” logo.
An interesting design choice of Mazda lettering is that all letters except “D” are lowercase. This was done because Mazda wanted to express precision, and a lower case “d” would have passed the top line of the other letters.
Another logo with a deeper meaning is from Mercedes Benz 3-pointed star, adopted in 1909. This symbol was based on a postcard that Paul and Adolf Daimler, sons of the company founder, received from their father in which the location of their house was marked with a star at 3 branches.
Today, the three dots are believed to represent the strength of Mercedes’ engines on land, sea and in the air.
Go to minimum
Over the past decade, many brands have taken their logos in a more minimalist direction. Many recently redesigned car logos lack 3D effects or colors.
Audi is one of the most prominent examples of this trend. In 2016, it removed the chrome effect on its “four rings” and opted instead for a matte black version. This clean and modern emblem is best suited for digital media and looks bolder. Also, the name “Audi” is no longer included at the bottom, a statement of the strength of the four rings.
BMW took a similar approach with its logo in 2020, removing the black outer ring and 3D effect. This minimalist and transparent logo is for “brand communication” only, which means that the logos on its cars will remain unchanged.
Finally, there is Cadillacwhich unveiled its own minimalist logo in 2021. This logo is used to represent the brand’s all-electric future and features a monochrome version of the classic Cadillac Crest.
An opportunity to reinvent yourself
The race for electric vehicle dominance has given automakers the opportunity to update or reinvent their brands. In addition to the companies mentioned above, volkswagen and General Motors (GM) also rolled out recent updates.
You may have already noticed Volkswagen’s new branding, which was updated in 2019. In line with the rest of the industry, the company now uses a 2D logo that offers “exceptional flexibility in digital media”.
More importantly, the company’s branding is intended to be much more colorful and natural, symbolizing a fresh start since the Volkswagen diesel door scandal of 2015.
Shortly after, GM revealed a new logo as part of a campaign to promote its future electric vehicles. Unlike its minimalist competitors, GM’s new logo features a light blue gradient that evokes “the clean skies of a zero-emissions future.”