I think it's just the current trend with car design, rather than a brand whoring type thing.
Honda, Audi and VW, all with massive silver logos on their grills, plus I can think of Citroen and Peugeot as well.
...but then having giant logos on cars is not exactly a new idea..
...a 1956 Citroen 2CV. One can't really brand whore with one of these things and try and pass it off as luxury. I believe the 2CV was originally designed as a cheap car for French peasants.
Looks like Mercedes is doing a 'Rolls Royce' type thing with the S Class, The brand logo as an actual object above the grill, gives it an air of prestige and luxury.
I think brand recognition has always been important with cars. More so these days with so many cars looking very similar to each other, with joint manufacturing agreements, cross licensing, etc. With many older cars, even without branding, they're instantly recognisable, 2CV, Mini, Beetle, etc. With those modern Mercedes A, B and E classes, without any branding it's probably quite difficult tell what they are, they could be from any manufacturer.
Edited by MikeDT - 11/5/11 at 8:42pm