Few people outside of the auto world could tell you what a Zenvo is, or a Spyker, or even a Koenigsegg or Pagani. Generally, boutique automakers suffer from brand identity issues in that it’s difficult to catch the eye of those who just aren’t into cars, and see vehicles as more of an appliance than a passion.
Of course, there is the other side of the spectrum — the vehicles that no matter how far out of the automotive loop one is, there’s at least a degree of familiarity that is sparked when the name is mentioned. The respected, brash, and often hilarious auto commentary site Jalopnik set out to determine what the most recognized names in the auto bizarre, and we’ve published their top ten list for your consumption after the jump.
“There’s a particular moment in a car’s history where the name finally burrows into the collective unconscious of the world as a whole,” Jalopnik’s Raphael Orlove said. These cars are not just nameplates, but cultural landmarks that have withstood the test of time.
10. Land Cruiser
With decades of use behind it, Toyota’s Land Cruiser SUV is about as versatile and flexible a vehicle as one can find. It’s a notable favorite in Middle Eastern countries for abiliy to cope with rough terrain and is likewise a popular choice among affluent North American families for obvious reasons. Orlove may have put it best, when he said “you can find these Toyota trucks and SUVs everywhere from ISIS convoys to your nearest private school parking lot,” adding that the Land Cruiser name is “in contention for the longest continually-used nameplate in the entire car world. The name was first used by Toyota in ’55.”
9. Range Rover
When it comes to comfortable off-roading with a side of sumptuous luxury, the enduring Land Rover Range Rover is hard to beat. Like the Land Cruiser, the Range Rover can be found everywhere from posh polo clubs to the middle of remote islands and jungles; the name itself conjures a very specific image that Land Rover has worked for decades to cultivate. “These British offroaders themselves may be less common than their Toyota counterparts, but their worldwide cultural weight is a different question,” Orlove said.
On a call we had with Ford CFO Bob Shanks a while back, he commented on something he noticed during the unveiling of the 2015 Mustang in Barcelona, Spain: Present at the event were members of a Spanish Mustang club, which was amazing, Shanks said, since Ford has actually never sold the car there. This demonstrates the power of the Mustang brand, which enjoys worldwide recognition despite virtually no dealership presence outside of North America.
If someone says “Mini” in reference to cars, it’s likely that many — most, really — will already have a pretty good visual of the car in question. This is largely thanks to BMW’s careful recreation of the classic in more recent years, but also because like the Mustang, the Mini brand has a cultural presence well beyond the physical embodiment of the vehicle itself. Look at all the movies that it has been featured in — notably, both classic and modern versions of The Italian Job. “‘Mini’ is a word for the decade as a whole, with this car in the center of it all,” Orlove said.
When asked how he could include the Prius and leave out the Corvette (sorry, spoiler, I know), Orlove responded saying that though the Corvette enjoys celebrity status here in the States, it’s far less known abroad. The Prius, meanwhile, is an international icon of sustainability and fuel frugality — a category-defining vehicle whose mention of the name conjures environmental responsibility for some, and frumpy anti-performance for others. But despite your stance, it’s hard to argue that the Prius nameplate isn’t immediately recognizable.
5. Model T
When discussing the automotive world’s most recognizable names, how about the one that started it all? As the first mass-produced automobile, the Ford Model T became the mascot for mobility for the masses, and its legacy lives on. At one point, the Model T was so pervasive that “there’s an old line that in 1920, one in every two cars sold in the entire world was a Model T,” Orlove said.
The Honda Civic is such an immensely popular car now that it’s easy to forget that it has always been a favorite in North America and beyond. Its arrival in the 1970s during the oil crisis was a godsend for those looking for fuel-efficient, cheap transportation, and since then, the Civic has kept its edge sharp and is a defining vehicle in the compact space.
“Amazing as a Honda can be, it cannot match the universal constant that is the Corolla,” Orlove says. “Take Afghanistan, for instance. The Corolla is the country’s most popular car, but in the capital Kabul, four out of every five cars are Corollas. That’s insane.” The compact enjoys similar popularity here — maybe not quite four out of five, but it’s routinely among the best-selling vehicles in the U.S. each month.
The term Jeep actually comes from the verbal integration of G and P, short for General Purpose, which is what soldiers called the early vehicles that would later become the basis for what we know as the Wrangler. The term Wrangler itself doesn’t have the international cache that the name Jeep does, but the name ‘Jeep’ was coined back when it referred to just one vehicle — made by Willys, or Ford. Since then, the Jeep name has become synonymous with the Wrangler more than any other vehicle under its umbrella, and it remains one of the most identifiable vehicles on the road today.
Of course, the amicable Volkswagen Beetle, which made it through numerous successful decades with few changes at all before being reinvented entirely in the late 1990s. “The Volkswagen is so standard, it can be used as a unit of measurement. It’s like Beetle translates into every language, still rattles across every country,” Orlove said. It’s truly the people’s car when virtually everyone in numerous countries around the world can relate to it.