Corporate Eye

Visual History of Top Car Brand Logos

mercedesThe most well-known car brands in the world have a lot of brand equity, and in Interbrand’s Top 100 Global Brands of 2013 study, more auto brands (14) made the list than any other category. In fact, 20% of the top 20 global brands according to the 2013 ranking are auto brands: Toyota (10th place), Mercedes-Benz (11th place), BMW (12th place), and Honda (20th place).

Many of these big car brands have logos that are recognized around the world. These logos are not just identifiable, they also hold emotional value to consumers. These logos represent a promise that the brand will deliver on its expectations in every customer interaction. The brand reputations might not always be stellar, but the logos have become tangible company assets that deserve a dollar value attached to them. After all, even the most hated brands have logos with value.

I’ll leave a conversation about calculating brand equity for another day. Today, let’s think about how these logos evolved to become not only iconic symbols and assets for their respective companies but also elements of social culture, particularly for brand logos that have been licensed for use on a wide variety of merchandise like clothes, luggage, and more.

A new infographic from Woodstock Motors (shown below) looks at the history of some of the big car brands and their logos. Some of the stories are steeped in the legacy of the people behind the companies, but my favorite story is the one that explains how the Volkswagen logo was developed. The iconic VW logo was originally designed as part of an office contest in 1938 by an employee named Franz Xavier Reimspiess.

I’m an advocate of simple logo design (if it doesn’t look as good in one color as it does in full color, then you should go back to the drawing board), so I love these types of stories about simple logo design that are rich in company and brand history rather than designs based on mathematical equations and complicated geometry, which cost hundreds of thousands of dollars (or more) and take years to develop.

Of course, all of the logos for the big car brands are simple, but you’ll see by reading the stories in the infographic below that some designs try to convey a lot more than others. In fact, there appear to be two extremes—highly detailed logos that are weighed down in “meaning” which actually doesn’t matter much to consumers at all or clean and simple logos. Take a look at the designs and think about how your brand identity compares. Is it bogged down in detail or agile enough for effective application in any platform or experience today and in the future?

car logos infographic

Image: John Karakatsanis

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Susan Gunelius is the author of 10 marketing, social media, branding, copywriting, and technology books, and she is President & CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company. She also owns Women on Business, an award-wining blog for business women. She is a featured columnist for and, and her marketing-related articles have appeared on websites such as,,, and more. She has over 20 years of experience in the marketing field having spent the first decade of her career directing marketing programs for some of the largest companies in the world, including divisions of AT&T and HSBC. Today, her clients include large and small companies around the world and household brands like Citigroup, Cox Communications, Intuit, and more. Susan is frequently interviewed about marketing and branding by television, radio, print, and online media organizations, and she speaks about these topics at events around the world. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google+.