I’m sort of surprised how rare cartoon-character mascots are for cars. You’d think having some fun, distinctive character associated with a particular model of car would be good for marketing, but it doesn’t really happen all that often. Perhaps it’s thought that cars are too expensive and Serious Business for such frippery. I’m really not sure. What I am sure of is that one company seems to do this far more often than anyone else, so good for them.
That company, that one automaker that has a history of finding little cartoon beings to be associated with their cars more than any other is Chrysler. And, incredibly, they’re still sort of still doing it today, making them possibly the only major, modern automaker to do so.
I’ve tried to compile the best known examples of car models that has their own associated (and factory-approved) cartoon mascots. I’m sure there’s many I’ve missed, and part of what makes this tricky is defining exactly what a “mascot” is.
I’m not talking badges or logos, exactly. A Ford Mustang’s mustang horse badge, for example, doesn’t count, for a few reasons, mostly aesthetic.
It’s clearly a stylized horse, not a cartoon horse character, and as such it’s not really a mascot like I’m talking about. Same goes for things like the Shelby Cobra, Mercury Cougar, Chevy Impala, and so on.
I should also admit I don’t feel confident assessing how mascots are used for cars in Japan; Japan is pretty much the world’s cartoon mascot capitol, and as such they seem to have mascots for everything—parks, airport, castles, hell, they have a hard-boiled egg in an Uncle Sam hat and skis that’s the mascot of some mountain. With that in mind, I’m sure they must have car-model related mascots I’m just not aware of.
I mean, Toyota even once made mascots for every component in a Prius! I’m not kidding. Look, here’s the hybrid transaxle’s mascot:
See? Who the hell knows what they’re capable of, mascot-wise?
Anyway, in America, at least, I think the mascot-king is our pals at Mopar. Here’s the car-mascots they’ve had:
The most famous one is a mascot Chrysler/Plymouth didn’t even come up with themselves, but licensed: Road Runner. The Road Runner meant speed, of course, and that’s what the Road Runner car was all about, too. What’s especially crazy is that Chrysler didn’t just license Road Runner for the car— they also licensed the use of Wile E. Coyote, super genius, and stuck his image under the hood of the car only, on the air cleaner. I mean, if you think about that, that’s sort of insane, but you have to hand it to Chrysler for going all-out on their branding theme.
The Road Runner’s sibling, the Dodge Super Bee, also had a mascot, but this one was designed in-house by Chrysler:
The Super Bee is a sort of V8-powered cyborg’d bee, sensibly wearing a helmet and goggles. I’m assuming the wings have been adapted to provide downforce, since the addition of those two huge wheels means this bee no longer needs to fly.
Dodge also was willing to come up with mascots even when the name of the car didn’t lend itself to an easy, usually animal-based cartoon. Take the Plymouth Duster, for example:
It’s not obvious what a Duster is, exactly: Plymouth could have gone for the stick-and-feather tool used to keep dust off of tchotchkes, but instead decided to anthropomorphize a swirling dust-devil like vortex of wind and grit.
I always liked the eyes of the Duster guy—they’re not so much evil or angry as they are sort of eye-rollingly exasperated. It’s like that swirling mass of grime and wind is perpetually thinking “Oh, great, this asshole again.”
The one that Dodge still uses to this day is for the Dodge Demon, though it’s grown much more serious and stylish since the original Dodge Demon Dart from the early to mid ‘70s. Here, look at the original Demon mascot/logo:
...and look at today’s:
There you go. That right there says more about how the automotive industry has changed in 40 years than countless books on the subject.
Other companies have dabbled in mascots, but none seem to have the dedication of Chrysler. AMC, even before Chrysler bought them, did have at least one notable car mascot, the Gremlin’s Gremlin:
I always liked the strange, open-fly’d Gremlin. I bet he’s good to have at your back if shit ever gets real, you know? I’m not exactly sure if we can count the AMC Hornet as a mascot, though:
It’s sort of close, but I’m not sure. This may be more in the category of a hood-Firebird.
One of the very few European makes to employ a sort of cartoon mascot was Volkswagen, and really, only for one car: the Rabbit.
Interestingly, Volkswagen only called the Golf the Rabbit in American markets, which may have also been seen as friendlier to little cartoon animals. Much later, VW’s advertising agency was playing with the idea of a mascot for the concept of ‘speed,’ which was usually used in conjunction with the Golf GTI. The mascot was named “Fast.”
Maybe that counts as a car mascot? I think we can count it.
Now, that said, I’m going to backtrack a little bit here: I think VW did have a cartoon mascot for the Beetle, but only officially in one very specific context: the special edition Sun Bug Beetle of 1974. These were gold-metallic-painted Super Beetles, either convertible or sunroof cars, and with some special badging that included, yes, a little cartoon ladybug in shades and a hat.
While I know the little ladybug was supposed to be cute and fun, that hat/sunglasses combo always reminded me of the Ralph Steadman drawings of Hunter S. Thompson, which would give the car a much different tone.
As I mentioned, I’m sure I’m missing some crucial mascots, so I’ll check the comments for your suggestions and abuse, both of which I very much deserve.