Badge Budge

A corporate identifier can speak a thousand words – especially in court. 

Image: Newsdanciennes

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.

Author: brrrruno

Car brochure collector, Thai food lover, not a morning person before my first cup of coffee

27 thoughts on “Badge Budge”

  1. Also note that Renault took Mazda to court in the early 90s because their new logo had a diamond in it – mazda then had to smooth it out, turning it into everyones least favourite mazda logo.

  2. That´s the power of art in design. The “banned” badge is rather nice though – it´s verging on the odd in such a way as too look truly Modern and, indeed, more Modern than later badges. That said, we must be near the end of the path of stripping away information from designs like logos and symbols; and minimal logos are great if founded on information-rich older designs.

    1. I belive the vehicle industry reached- shall we say “Quantum logo”- in the 1960s, albeit briefly and unsuccessfully. A design agency (Wolf Ohlins??) were hired to come up with PR ideas for the Norton Commando, arguably the world’s first Superbike. The result of turning the full coin of their mind to the very conservative world of the motorcycle industry was the notorious Green Blob. This was intended to replace Norton’s wonderful Arts and Crafts script with a green blob. If implemented then the bike would have had no Norton branding all, even the fuel tank was intended to have a green blob; a definitive step further than cars having their logo on the nose and name on the tail.

      Enthusuast reaction was scathing and the blob was only ever used on ancillary items- clocks for a few years, spares packaging etc. I think Norton’s holding company may have used it as their corporate identity on their letterheads etc so it wasn’t completely wasted but certainly not the intended success…

    2. Here’s the Commando from Earl’s Court show 1967:
      Silver paintwork including frame and a dayglo orange seat with fastback extension.
      Prodzction bikes were slightly less radical
      The green eye was used on the instrument face until the end of production.

  3. Good morning Bruno and thank you for an interesting anecdote. I think Kent actually did Renault a favour: the Vasarely logo is highly distinctive, unlike the rather bland Boué effort, and lasted a long time.

    Regarding Citroën/DS and Polestar, there is a (small) possibility of confusion between DS and Polestar, but it’s really hard to se how the (now rounded off) double-chevron could be considered too similar. Perhaps there’s a degree of national prejudice at work in the French courts.

  4. I didn’t know this story. I actually prefer the Boué logo. It still looks fresh forty years later. As it’s made of two chevrons on their sides, Citroën arguably would have had more cause to go after that one than the Polestar logo.

  5. On the subject of copycat car logos, here’s today’s DTW Quick Quiz, a new feature that may or may not be repeated regularly, occasionally or never.

    This is the Holden logo:

    This is not:

    Which auto maker used the second logo, apparently without any objection from Holden or GM?

    1. Aha, so it’s trickier than I expected. I’m sure somebody will get it before long. DTW’s commentariat are a knowledgeable bunch.

    2. This is proving to be a good teaser! I’m not going to give any hints for the time being.

    3. Is the right answer! (Or, at least, a cryptic clue to it.)

      Well done, John.

    4. Daniel, I must say the proton logo looks very similar to the mercury cougar’s hood ornament

    1. Hi Andrew and Freerk. I’ve taken the liberty of amending your comments to show the logos to which you refer, and you’re both right. I guess there’s only so many ways one can profile a big cat.

      Richard, I hope you’ve no plans for Christmas Day…(!)

  6. I cannot believe that a French court was able to ban Polestar from selling cars in France for 6 months on the back of an utter load or nonsense about how the latter’s badge could be construed as that of Citroen and/ or DS. Or maybe I can, it is France after all. How can that be permitted under EU regulations? The French always seemed to be able to get away with murder without attracting the kind of EU slap-down to which the UK always seemed prone. No wonder people voted to ‘leave’ (I didn’t by the way).

    1. Oh, you know, in the EU every country is still cooking its own soup.
      Common rules only exist on some paper in Strasbourg or Brussels.
      And you don’t have to point at the French or – always a favourite – the British.
      In Germoney they have also worked hard on common rules – and completely disregard them when it suits them.

      For example: According to EU regulations, every vehicle that has a type approval/registration in one country within the EU is automatically registered in every other EU country.
      Except in Germoney.
      If our TÜV (something like MOT but with more political power) says NO to a vehicle made in Britain in small series, that’s the NO, regardless.
      Then that vehicle can be registered anywhere in the EU, except here in Germoney.

      Common market? EU regulations? I’ll laugh about it when I have enough time.

      And if DS were a German brand, I bet my inheritance on it, Polestar would have received the same verdict here in Germoney.

    1. Thanks for posting the link, Christopher. So, Patrick le Quément didnt like the Vasarely iteration of the Renault logo? Shows all I know about design!

      The latest to ‘refresh’ its logo is Fiat, which has dispensed with the circular frame and red background in favour of this pared-down but scaled-up effort:

      Four tall and narrow capitalised sans-serif letters has been done before:

      Le Quément probably won’t like it!

    2. Thanks for adding the pictures, Daniel. You’ve explained it to me on how to do it, but Imgur and I haven’t become friends.

      That’s an interesting story, Christopher, thanks for sharing it.

  7. Not only a 6 month sales ban, a 150,000 euro fine! To which Polestar responded:

    ‘”Polestar does not operate in France, and we currently have no plans to operate in France,” a spokesperson told Autoblog. ‘

    Perhaps that’s why Polestar’s French website is “down”.

    So the whole exercise is inapplicable to anything material, except for the 150,000 euro fine. Completely ridiculous. If Polestar does indeed not operate in France, and I were them, I’d say hang it and forget to pay. Imagine if the French fined a British company, technically a ‘person’ these days, which had no presence on French soil or markets, you know for not doing anything wrong other than creating an imagined slight on the part of a French company and fined them just because. The papers would be on that in an instant.

    Look at the logos until you’re cross-eyed, and the resemblance just isn’t there. Citroen should be paying Polestar’s court costs since the judge agreed it would be hard to mix the logos up. But such logic apparently eludes the French judicial mind. That’ll be 150K euros, please, and there’ll be none of this sort of thing again in future, or else the fine for being innocent will be quadrupled.

  8. Now, here’s something that nearly slipped by unnoticed, a new Renault logo on the recent Renault 5 EV concept:

    It seems to hark back to the 1972 Vasarely logo discussed above.

  9. I see Citroën have pretty much gone back to 1919 with their latest logo, released today. I wonder what this signifies in terms of design intent, if anything.

    Here’s the word salad that goes with it:

    “Our new identity is an elegant symbol of progress as we move our customers physically in daring, forward-looking vehicles that challenge traditional industry rules, and emotionally by ensuring their entire experience – particularly going electric – is more affordable, comfortable, and enjoyable whatever their wants and needs.”

    More SUVs, then.

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