A recent visit to the BMW Museum in Munich, Germany, got me thinking about car names. Not how they come about, are dreamt up and used, but how they are displayed on the car – and become a critical part of its design identity.
BMW has – for at least the past five generation of its core cars – used the same Eurostile extended medium typeface for the numbered model badging on its cars. The quintessential ‘320d’ that’s such a common sight across Europe today. But on a brief wander around the museum you note that BMW hasn’t always used such a font, and that on many of its historic models it was much more expressive in its use of both typeface and its naming or labeling convention. On the Isetta and the fabulous 2000 Ti racer, you’re reminded that in previous times it was also used as the model identifier on the front of the car too.
Today, badging and naming is changing, yet it is also becoming more important once again. As downsizing puts some comically small capacity engines into our cars, cubic capacity is increasingly something manufacturers don’t shout about. In recent years, Audi has moved to a simple TFSi (petrol) and TDi (diesel) naming convention, regardless of displacement and cylinder count.
But the means of identifying the brand — and the specific model — is increasing in its importance. Consider Porsche: It’s a brand whose cars tend to be identifiable even by those who have barely a passing interest in automotive matters. Yet on the latest generation (991) 911, the firm has moved to add much greater amounts of badging beyond the Carrera or Carrera S designation. Badging at the side and the front is becoming more common too – with Land Rover / Range Rover moving to identify all its cars via their names spaced across the front of the hood (see New Discovery).
We’re living in a world where each model’s design changes in evolutionary steps as brands seek to create a consistent identity and strong model lineage. Small details and identifiers therefore come to play a disproportionate importance in the design identity. In the future, surely this small, graphical aspect of car design will only increase in its importance and conferring of meaning?