What's in a brand name? A lot. It can tell about the history of the company, the identity of its founders, the place where it was born, the values it is meant to uphold. It can evoke a sentiment, bring power, and instill confidence. Cars companies are excellent examples of brands that are filled with story and wonder.
While the names of major car brands may ring familiar to an average driver, not everyone knows where they came from or how they got their start.
Here are the origins of some of the world's most famous car brands.
Let's start with the world's oldest car brand: France's Pugeot.
The Pugeot name has been around since the 19th century. It’s the oldest surviving car brand in the world, and its history runs deep.
Jean-Pierre Pugeot started his eponymous company in 1810 hand tools, kitchen equipment, and bicycles, but by 1889 it had begun producing cars as well. The first models were steam-powered until 1890 when they were converted to gasoline engines. The Pugeot lion logo is a symbol of strength, courage and independence. It has been used as the brand's emblem since the beginning of its history.
You’ve seen it. The iconic three-pointed star, adorning the front grille of Mercedes-Benz vehicles across the world. And if you know anything about cars at all, you probably know that it has something to do with their founder—Karl Benz. But did you know that Mercedes Benz actually started as separate entities? The company we know today had its beginnings as Benz & Cie., founded by Karl Benz, and Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft(DMG) which was started by Gottlieb Daimler. Both were legendary pioneers in the automobile industry.
The name Mercedes comes from Mercedes Jellinek, daughter of Emil Jellinek who worked with DMG and was an avid race enthusiast.
Henry Ford was a man who liked to revolutionize things. He founded the Ford Motor Company, which made cars affordable enough for the masses. A skilled mechanic by trade, Ford worked as the chief engineer at the Edison Illuminating Company before going on to establish the Detroit Automobile Company 1899. This company did not find success however, and Ford went on to form the Henry Ford Company in 1901. Due to disagreements with his partners, Ford left the company bearing his name(which eventually changed into the Cadillac Automobile Company), teamed up with another set of partners including the Dodge brothers and incorporated the Ford Motor Company, which is the company we know to this day.
Ford is considered by many to be one of the fathers of mass production—a system in which manufacturers produce large numbers or quantities of goods using standardized methods that allow for efficient use of labor, materials and machinery. His assembly line concept revolutionized manufacturing by allowing cars to be produced quickly and cheaply—and contributed greatly to making owning an automobile possible for many Americans during the 20th century.
Cadillac was named after the French explorer Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac who founded the city of Detroit, Michigan.
The brand began life in 1902 from the remnants of the Henry Ford Company. After Henry Ford left the company that bore his name, Ford's financial backers were persuaded to continue manufacturing automobiles. They changed the name to the Cadillac Automobile Company and soon became synonymous with luxury and reliability, becoming one of America's premier luxury car makers.
The car that James Bond loves to ride. Aston Martin is a British car manufacturer known for luxury and sheer power. Founded in 1913 by Lionel Martin and Robert Bamford, the company was originally named Bamford & Martin. They named it Aston Martin after the Aston Clinton Hill Climb race in Buckinghamshire, England, where they had been successful racing drivers.
The Aston Martin is crucial to the plot of many James Bond movies. The first film in which an Aston Martin was driven by Bond was "Goldfinger", and it has been used in several others since then.
Now here is a car brand with a colorful and controversial history.
Volkswagen is a German auto manufacturer, founded in 1937 by the Nazis. Even the original Volkswagen logo was based on the Nazi swastika.
Volkswagen means "the people's car" in German, with Volks meaning people and wagen meaning car, and was coined by Adolf Hitler as a propaganda tool to promote his idea for an affordable car for everyone in Germany. The iconic Volkswagen Beetle was designed by Ferdinand Porsche (sounds familiar?).
Today, Volkswagen is one of the largest auto manufacturers in the world. They own several other brands including Bentley, Bugatti and Lamborghini. The company may have had a dark past, but today it is a powerhouse in the automotive industry.
Lamborghinis are known to be some of the most expensive cars in the world. The company was named after its founder, Ferruccio Lamborghini, in 1963. They initially sold tractors and other farming equipment. They eventually began to produce sports cars when Ferruccio decided he wanted to make a better car than Ferrari due to a now famous meeting where Ferruccio knocked on Enzo Ferrari's door, gave his ideas on how to improve Ferrari's cars, and was promptly rejected. Furious, he drove away, stopped making tractors, started making some of the best supercars in the world, and is still a pain in Ferrari's ass to this day.
There is a lesson here staring you right in the face.
The name Toyota comes from the family name of its founder Sakichi Toyoda. When early vehicles were produced by the company, they originally bore a Toyoda emblem.
In 1936, the name was changed from Toyoda to Toyota. The name "Toyota" is associated with a voiceless consonant sound in Japanese, which is considered clearer than voiced consonants like in "Toyoda."
The number of strokes it takes to write a Japanese character, called jikaku, is also considered significant. Eight strokes are said to be connected with wealth and good fortune, and "Toyota" (トヨタ) has exactly eight.
The name Tesla comes from Serbian inventor Nikola Tesla, who was famous for his contributions to the fields of electricity and magnetism.
Tesla Motors was founded by Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning in 2003. Both were avid fans of Nikola Tesla and decided to name their company after the scientist. In February 2004, Elon Musk made a $6.5 million investment in the company and became its largest shareholder; he has served as CEO since 2008.
The company's cars are not only known for their sleek design and high performance, but they also have some of the most advanced safety features on the road.
Some final thoughts before you hit the accelerator
As you go on your branding journey, reflect on how different brands have evolved over the years. What impact would you have on people 50, 100, or maybe even 200 years from now? It may sound too far, but sometimes thinking that far ahead reveals things that you would never have seen if you only looked as far as your windshield.
These car companies - as varied as they are - reveal that what they have in common is that their names have been forged over generations of design, innovation, and performance to become the brands we know and love today.