Diamonds are forever

New logo for Mitsubishi Motors

Mitsubishi Motors logo before and after
Mitsubishi Motors logo before and after

Mitsubishi Motors Corporation (MMC) is a Japanese multinational automotive manufacturer headquartered in Minato, Tokyo, Japan. In 2011, MMC was the sixth biggest Japanese automaker and the sixteenth biggest worldwide by production. From October 2016 onwards, MMC is one-third (34%) owned by Nissan, and thus a part of the Renault–Nissan–Mitsubishi Alliance. The remaining 64% stake belongs to the Mitsubishi Group, formerly the biggest industrial group in Japan, which formed MMC in 1970 from the automotive division of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. Mitsubishi’s automotive origins date back to 1917, when the Mitsubishi Shipbuilding Co., Ltd. introduced the Model A, Japan’s first series-production automobile. (Wikipedia)

On the 100th anniversary of the Model A’s manufacture, MMC has overhauled the brand’s marketing activities and presence on all communications around the world. Part of this is a tweaked logo and a new tagline, “Drive your Ambition”, which is a statement of the company’s “ongoing commitment to the values and aspirations of its drivers.”

(Side note: you might have wondered whether “Mitsubishi” officially refers to the Mitsubishi Motors Corporation, or Mitsubishi Group, or some other company with Mitsubishi in the name. Maybe Mitsubishi Electric? Are they related and how so? The fact is that “Mitsubishi” is a community that consists of a multitude of independent companies, amounting to a few hundred, making the “Mitsubishi” all but impossible to define. You can read more about that here.)

Evolution of the Mitsubishi logo: (1) Yamauchi family crest; (2) Iwasaki family crest; (3) Tsukumo Shokai shipping company emblem, circa 1870; (4) Mitsubishi emblem, 1914–present
Evolution of the Mitsubishi logo: (1) Yamauchi family crest; (2) Iwasaki family crest; (3) Tsukumo Shokai shipping company emblem, circa 1870; (4) Mitsubishi emblem, 1914–present

One thing that the name “Mitsubishi” certainly refers to is the unmistakable three-diamond emblem, which predates MMC itself by almost a century. “Mitsubishi” is a combination of the words mitsu and hishi. (In Japanese, an h sound often becomes a b sound when it occurs in the middle of a word.) Mitsu means three, while hishi means water chestnut, but has also come to denote a rhombus or diamond shape.

The emblem (3, above) was adopted in the 1870s by Yataro Iwasaki for his Tsukomo Shokai shipping company, the precursor to Mitsubishi. It was suggestive of both the three-tiered water chestnuts of the Iwasaki family crest (2), and the three-oak-leaf crest of the Yamauchi family (1), Lords of the former Tosa province where Iwasaki was born, and Iwasaki’s first employer. (Compare Japanese family emblems to the coats of arms in European heraldic tradition.) The current iteration of the emblem (4) was trademarked in 1914.

The Mitsubishi emblem is a powerful example of how simplicity in logos is a key to longevity. Its uncomplicated, single-colour form has kept it impervious to influences of design trends and is the reason why it has remained unchanged for over 100 years. 100 years. With that longevity comes a considerable accumulation of brand equity, and it’s no wonder that Mitsubishi companies from 140 nations have secured nearly 5,500 registrations for the mark.

For MMC, those three attractive, blistering-red diamonds symbolise the thrill and excitement of driving its cars. They burn into your mind, whichever angle you look at them from. I would think that the average person could recall the brand name just by glimpsing the diamonds – a level of recognition that many companies strive for.

Old Mitsubishi Motors logotype
Old Mitsubishi Motors logotype

But this is about more than just the diamonds. The MMC logo features a “Mitsubishi Motors” type treatment beneath both the old and new logos. The old version (just above) was a custom sans with condensed proportions and had an industrial feel to it. In particular, the way the curved strokes of the B and the R terminated before meeting the centre of the (vertical) stems lent the type a stencil aesthetic, as if to be a relic of the company’s shipbuilding days.

I do think the type could have been given a bit more room to breathe as the letters were somewhat tightly tracked (with some inconsistent kerning). Evidently, the emblem was intended to be the more salient element of this particular lockup, although other variations which vary the visual focus do exist. Overall, though, it felt engineered, confident.

New Mitsubishi Motors logo with taglineNew Mitsubishi Motors logo with tagline (reversed)

The new logo, or, rather, the new type treatment, is also a custom sans, and it actually addresses some of those points I raised above. The type is larger, to counterbalance the visual weight of the emblem (when comparing the stacked logos, at least), and its proportions are wider, more imposing. The form of the S, which isn’t very common, has wide open apertures and lends a modicum of warmth and character to the logo.

But do these changes make it better? To answer that question, I would consider the rationale for the new tagline, “Drive your Ambition”. MMC says, among other things, that it “clearly differentiates [the company] as a customer-centric force in global mobility”. If, by extension, the new logo was intended to feel more consumer-friendly… then it succeeds. This is a fine update for Mitsubishi Motors, and I can only dream that my looks wouldn’t change much either if I were to reach 100 years.

Below: a video about the new brand message and company philosophy.

Below: a video that takes you through the company’s extensive car-making history.