A corporate identifier can speak a thousand words – especially in court.
Recently, Citroën has taken Volvo-affiliated Polestar to court in France claiming that the new manufacturer’s logo is not only too similar to the famous double chevron, but also the more recent DS logo – and in their home country at least, Citroën has been successful, as the judge ruled partly in favour of the French car manufacturer.
The court stated that while potential customers of either brand were unlikely to confuse the two it did rule that it was probable that Polestar could gain brand recognition and publicity over the back of Citroën through the similarity of the respective logo’s. The result: Polestar has been handed a six month long sales ban in France. At present Polestar’s French website is offline. It is unclear how things will unfold from here but we can reasonably expect that the last word has not been said on the issue.
Almost fifty years ago, Renault ran into similar difficulties when the Boulogne-Billancourt manufacturer introduced a new logo only to be taken to court and forced to come up with an alternative one.
Citroën, Polestar and Renault badge evolution – one is absent.
At the start of the nineteen seventies, la Régie (as it was then frequently termed) was in the process of completing the switch to exclusively front-engined and front-wheel drivetrains for their complete model range.
The famous rhombus had graced Renaults since 1925 and with a few updates along the way was still a very recognisable identifier; therefore Renault did not want to eliminate it completely but rather create a modernised rendition to signify the new era they were entering. Designer Michel Boué, best known for the original 5, was tasked by CEO Pierre Dreyfus with the creation of a new logo.
His answer was a highly simplified rendition of the lozenge where only two left, and right pointing arrows create a rhombus within the space they enclose. Boué’s proposal met with approval and in July 1971 the new 15 and 17 coupé models were the first to be fitted with Renault’s new brand identifier, followed by the 5 in January of the following year.
The successful launch of the latter combined with widespread publicity – by comparison the earlier introduction of the 15 and 17 twins had generated less attention from the press – prompted Kent, a company producing cleaning materials and repair chemicals for the automotive industry, to take legal action against Renault. Kent claimed Billancourt’s new trademark was much too similar to theirs, and while it may have been purely coincidental, Kent did seem to have a point.
The presiding judge agreed and barred Renault from using their new logo, thus putting the carmaker in a bit of a pickle. Going back to using the previous rendition of the lozenge was out of the question as it had been decided to retire it for a reason; Dreyfus responded by contacting a visual artist named Jean-Pierre Vasarely (Michel Boué had unfortunately succumbed to cancer in late 1971) to urgently come up with a solution.
Jean-Pierre Vasarely was the son of Hungarian-French artist Victor Vasarely, the creator of the Op Art movement. He did not disappoint and proposed a design that was arguably superior to the banned specimen: inspired by the Op Art technique of his father, Vasarely created a rhombus with a distinctive 3d-effect through its alternating black and white lines.
How strongly Dreyfus was influenced by time constraints in his decision process is not documented, but the Renault CEO almost immediately greenlighted Vasarely’s design and it became Renault’s identifying trademark for the next twenty years.
All Renaults already produced and sold wearing the banned logo were recalled to be rebadged, but of course not everybody complied, making cars still fitted with this contested version of the lozenge much-sought after collectors items within Renault enthusiast circles.