A car emblem is more formally called a badge, and it’s the tip of the spear when trying to communicate your brand to the auto-buying public. Car makers have used taglines and sometimes even the distinctive design of the car itself to help brand their cars. Long ago they could rely on that small figure on the hood to help, but those were deemed hazardous. Still, the badge is consistently the first insight members of the public get with a brand. Like all attempts at branding, it can be entirely misleading.
A number of people believe the BMW logo is based around a propeller. In actual fact, it was based on the Bavarian flag, which is also blue and white. Having looked at the Bavarian flag though I would say that the propeller theme is more obvious which might explain why so many sources on the internet continue this myth.
BMW isn’t alone in this type of confusion. Look at Chevrolet’s badge for instance. It may have been based around the Swiss cross (but then again a “+” is such a common symbol) or it may have been inspired by a specific design of wallpaper.
Chrysler, however, has an obvious theme. The 1930’s gave birth to the age of the jet engine and Chrysler wanted to draw subtle connections.
Audi’s four rings are based on the link of four companies, one of them being Audi, the other three being DKW, Horch, and Wanderer.
If you are like me you haven’t heard of any of these companies but DKW or Dampf-Kraft Wagen was into creating steam-powered cars, so understandably was a thing of its time. Horch created a number of cars in Germany including the Cabriolet.
Wanderer made automobiles, but also vans, bikes, and even trucks. This is a four-ring emblem with lots of history.
Ferrari is based on one of the enduring Italian symbols of the prancing horse. Apparently, a fighter pilot had a horse emblazoned on his plane. It isn’t linked to Ferrari family though, they just happened to like the design. The idea that Ferraris have horsepower and so are represented by a horse doesn’t quite work; Italians don’t use the word horsepower to describe the force of a car.
Mercedes had the idea of a three-pointed star to represent success in land, sea, and air, though nowadays most people have forgotten that they made boats and planes and just remember the manufacturer of cars.
Despite seeming to be only three rotated diamonds the badge of Mitsubishi, in reality, relate to two Japanese families, namely the crest of Iwasaki and the crest of Yamanouchi, the former holds a shipping business, the latter the head of a great clan. Since both represent three objects; Iwasaki was chestnut leaves and Yamanouchi was oak leaves the symbol relates to them both.
The origin of Subaru’s stars is a bit obscure. There are five stars on the logo and there are six stars in the Pleiades which is a kind of sub-constellation found in the constellation of Taurus, which is what Subaru means in Japanese. It would make more sense to have the logo have nineteen the same number as Taurus, but maybe that would be too obvious? Also, nineteen stars wouldn’t make a good badge.
When Ferdinand Porsche broke away from VW, he chose the Coat of Arms of Stuttgart (where his company headquarters was located) and the flag of the Free Peoples of State of Wurttemberg to create one of the more interesting badges.
Still, they help to sell quality brands of cars and that’s the main reason they are there. The histories are just an added bonus.