I’ve been pretty hard on the use of emojis as a substitute for normal human language, especially when it comes to the marketing of cars, for quite some time. Maybe I’m still bitter because a rebus-talking man killed my sensei many years ago. Maybe it’s just cloying? Regardless, it’s here, so I decided I might as well take a deeper look at the cars of the Emojiverse.
There’s a decent little set of cars in the standard Unicode set of Emojis, as agreed to by the League of Nations or the Earth Council of Learned Elders or secretive Illuminati-Communo-Zionists or whatever global body is in charge of Unicode.
Looking at this design of these emoji vehicles (at least in the set that I’ve found to be most common in media, known as the Apple Set), it’s clear that the cars shown are intended to be as generic as possible, for the broadest possible uses.
While Willem Van Lancker (the guy who seems to have designed Apple’s set of emoji back in 2009) did a good job of keeping the designs clean, nonspecific, and quite generalized, there’s hints of cars he must have been looking at, or at least thinking of in most of these Emojimobiles.
I wanted to try and reverse-visual-engineer these car emojis to see if I could find the cars that possibly inspired them, so I’d know—I mean, really goddamn know—exactly what kind of car I’m texting to people when I screw up and hit the emoji keyboard instead of letters.
Using a sophisticated vision-processing algorithm running on a TI 99/4a with a squirrel’s eyeball attached via a homemade serial cable (the Jalopnik Mainframe has been temporarily repossessed for reasons I’m sure you haven’t heard about), I was able to determine where many of these emoji cars came from. Here are the results:
The most generically-named car emoji is just called automobile” but it’s known in the cool emoji hangouts and opium dens as the “red car.”
It’s a compact red hatchback, and from what I can tell, appears to be most like a second-generation Renault Twingo. The proportions are a bit closer to the Scion/Toyota iQ (our readers probably know it better as an Aston Martin Cygnet), but the B-pillar and rear-quarter window on the iQ are just a bit too distinctive.
I think it’s a Twingo with some slightly changed details and cartoonified proportions.
🚘 Oncoming Automobile
There’s also one called oncoming automobile that’s a blue car as seen from the front. It’s so staggeringly generic it almost hurts to look right at it. Based on a lot of data crunching and having to swap floppies like a billion times, the TI994/a eventually determined this was a hybrid of a 2008 Kia Spectra and a 2013 Chrysler 200, two of the most generic-looking vehicles ever built. Or maybe some kind of Chevrolet or Toyota sedan.
The human brain literally cannot remember what these cars look like even while you’re staring right at one. There’s a whole research project right there.
Since the most enthusiastic emoji users are urban go-getters who can’t be bothered to drive their own motor-coaches, taxicabs are an important emoji car, perhaps the most important.
The design of the basic taxi emoji is puzzling for many reasons: it’s only got two doors, something extremely rare on cabs (that was why Mexico City got rid of all their Beetle taxis) and it’s so crude and rectilinear that it doesn’t even feel like a modern car at all.
That’s why I don’t think it’s based on one; it seems to look most like a caricature of an ‘80s Chrysler K-Car coupé, with a dark vinyl top. The general rectilinear shape, vertical side marker at the front, and window sizes seem to be a decent match to Iacocca’s baby there.
🚖 Oncoming Taxi
The oncoming taxi emoji is wildly different from the crude approximation of its profile. The oncoming cab is interesting because, while it’s yellow, suggesting an iconic New York City cab, the design seems far closer to one of the modernized London Black Cabs, specifically the TX-4, that you find, of course, in London.
The grille is shorter and wider than the actual London Cab, but the body’s tall shape, prominent round headlights, and hood/bonnet design really do suggest the London Cab far more than the iconic NYC cabs, a yellow Ford Crown Victoria, or, if we go back a bit further, a Checker Marathon.
I guess a yellow London cab is sort of the ideal mix of the two most iconic taxi styles?
Maybe it’s because emojis have origins in Japan, but I don’t see any way to look at the Minibus emoji and not think of it as some sort of Kei van. Specifically, this one appears to be a high-roof Daihatsu HiJet, one of the most popular Kei vans.
The C-pillar is gone or blacked-out, but I’m still feeling HiJet from this thing. Maybe it could be something bigger like a Nissan Homy or a Toyota HiAce, now that I think about it, but I’m still leaning to the HiJet.
🚙 Recreational Vehicle
Even though the emoji is called recreational vehicle, most emoji sets show something much more like an SUV than what we normally would think of as a Recreational Vehicle (RV), or camper.
This one fits very much with the strange, crudely iconic design vocabulary of the Taxi, down to the odd two-tone paint scheme.
The closest two-door SUV I and the TI 99/4a could find was the Mitsubishi Pajero two-door, and that’s not even all that close. Really, a Cozy Coupe may be closer, but I suspect the designer had an SUV similar to that Mitsu in mind when this was made.
🏎 Racing Car
Just because you spend all your time twittling micro-rebuses to your besties doesn’t mean that you don’t have an aching need for speed in the pit of your gut, which is why the emoji car-stable includes one open-wheel racing car.
That racing car seems to be closest to an F1 car. I wondered if it could possibly be an Indy car, but, on closer inspection, it’s clear this is intended to be an F1.
🚔 Oncoming Police Car
I should mention that there’s also another police car, a side view (🚓), but it’s just a repaint of the side-view Taxi up there, and as such looks to be a goof-ified K-Car in police livery.
The oncoming police car emoji is way more interesting, since I’m pretty sure it’s a simplification of the iconic Ford Crown Victoria cop car we’ve all spent our driving lives avoiding, or mistaking cabs and old people’s cars for.
The inboard turn indicators and the wide yet-not-full-width grille are the giveaways here. I thought perhaps it could be a Chevrolet Caprice cop car, but I think the Crown Vic is a safer bet.
I’m glad to say not all of these were hard to figure out. This one was actually pretty easy to determine the inspiration.