Earlier this week, Interbrand, one of the world’s largest branding consultancies, published its 2012 review of ‘Top 100 Brands’. It makes interesting reading, not least because this is the first time Facebook joins the list following its controversial IPO in May.

But of course we’re interested in the Automotive brands and what it tells us about sector’s recovery, following the unprecedented slump in 2009/10.

Before we delve into the detail, it’s worth commenting on the branding valuation method used by Interbrand in arriving at the value of each company’s brand. However, if business finance is not your thing, just skip ahead to the next section.

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The Global Top 12 Automotive Brands

If the report had purely ranked each car maker by their ‘brand power’ index (proportion of earnings attributable to the power of the brand), then clearly Ferrari would be top of the list. More than any other car maker in the world, buyers choose Ferrari because of what the brand says about them – the Prancing Horse brand has more in common with Apple in this respect.

However the top brand by value in Interbrand’s report is Toyota, closely followed by Mercedes-Benz and BMW. In fact, at the rate those top-3 are climbing (9%, 10% and 18%), BMW will become the most valuable automotive brand of 2013, after becoming one of the most profitable car brands worldwide in 2011.

BMW are set to extend this advantage further, when they launch their new range of plug-in hybrids under the ‘BMW i’ sub-brand.

Long-time rival Audi lag behind the propeller-brand in the brand building of their future solutions, although the forthcoming e-tron range (R8 and A3) will start carving out their green identity. The same goes for Mercedes, although less so in terms of their medium-term brand development. Rather than pushing out the boat like BMW and Audi with an all-electric range, Mercedes has instead focused on the short-term with their new BlueTEC diesel and BlueTEC Hybrid models.

BMW’s investment in the ‘i’ future-brand, will have the effect of both extending the growth duration of their forecasts and slowing the drop-off over time, hence placing more emphasis (and value) into their brand being used to establish an emotional connection with new customers to BMW.

Best Global Brands 2012 – filtered by Automotive

Brand 2012 Rank 2011 Rank Brand Value $m % Change(Brand Value)
Toyota 10 11 30,280 9%
Mercedes-Benz 11 12 30,097 10%
BMW 12 15 29,052 18%
Honda 21 19 17,280 -11%
Volkswagen 39 47 9,252 18%
Ford 45 50 7,958 6%
Hyundai 53 61 7,473 24%
Audi 55 59 7,196 17%
Porsche 72 72 5,149 12%
Nissan 73 90 4,969 30%
Kia 87 n/a 4,089 NEW
Ferrari 99 99 3,770 5%

As the Interbrand reports says, sustainability is no longer a side issue, but is instead a core value of every car maker’s brand – with the price of fuel and evidence of global warming influencing a significant percentage of buyers.

Much of Toyota’s brand value is built on the success of their hybrid model range – the largest in the world – although as other manufacturers join the religion, Toyota will find their advantage diminish. While Toyota tops the list for brand value, it falls to the lower quartile in terms of growth.

This is likely to be in response to Toyota’s mishandling of the ‘unintended acceleration’ debacle, which in 2009 led the company to recall 3.8 million U.S. cars, with several more million recalled in a related crisis the following year. During this time positive brand disposition fell from 83% to 59% (according to research by GfK MRI), with negative brand disposition rising from 17% to 41% during the same period.

Toyota’s fortunes have since recovered to 70% (+ve) and 30% (-ve), but this will have continued to soften forecasts for the world’s largest car maker by market value.

Other ‘stars’ in the field include Hyundai, which sits above Audi and Nissan with a brand valuation of $7.43 billion. The Korean car maker is the second fastest climber behind Nissan (+24%), which is partly explained by the sharp rise in quality and durability of its latest cars.

The twelve automotive brands within Interbrand’s Top 100 Best Brands report. (Image: Interbrand)

Perhaps they should thank Volkswagen’s CEO, Martin Winterkorn, who expressed his frustration (on camera) when exploring the interior of the latest i30 at the 2011 Frankfurt Motor Show, remarking that “Nothing rattles here”.

The same is true of Hyundai’s close neighbour Kia, which is now competing at the same quality levels as its Japanese rivals and whose brand promise is being strongly validated by its customers.

BMW is not the fastest growing automotive brand by value – that accolade goes to Nissan, which rose by 30% in the past 12 months. But before we get too excited by the Godzilla-effect (of the mighty GT-R), the report says the brand’s rapid growth in value is likely due to cars such as the zero-emission LEAF, which has won numerous Car of The Year awards here in Europe and its home country, Japan.

However, the success of the joint Nissan-Sony GT Academy programme will also have played a large part in driving buyers to the showrooms and the connection made with customers by the endeavours of Lucas Ordoñez, Jordan Tresson and Jann Mardenborough. It represents a valuable legacy for the brand, which will contribute to the car maker’s growth for many years to come.

* * *

The three remaining brands that I’ve so far failed to mention are Volkswagen, Ford and Honda.

Volkswagen ranks fourth in Interbrand’s Best Global Green Brands 2012 report, up from sixth a year ago and despite the attacks made on the brand by Greenpeace (most recently at last week’s Paris Motor Show opening), Volkswagen came out with the second highest brand value growth figure (+18%) in the report, on a par with BMW.

VW continues to reboot its brand with major viral success stories including its 2012 Super Bowl ads, which were watched by over 33 million people online and shared 1.6 million times.

The company’s “Modular Transverse Matrix” (MQB) platform has significantly reduced the weight of recently released cars (including the Audi A3 and Golf Mk7) and will offer a cost effective base on which to offer a full range of petrol, diesel, hybrid and electric power plants.

Ford has been less successful in growing the value of its brand, rising by just 6% since 2011 (the 3rd lowest automotive brand in the report), however recovery is strong, with the success of global cars such as the Focus and Fiesta and the support of ambassadors such as Ken Block – Gymkhana hero and maker of the most viral automotive videos of all time (now featuring Ford’s Fiesta).

Ford’s vision for a unified global brand is being realised and the car maker recently set up ‘Ford Labs’ in Silicon Valley, as they engage the local tech community in building an open-source community for innovative ideas and solutions to deliver the most advanced connected vehicles.

The only brand in the top twelve with a ‘negative’ growth performance is Honda, dropping 11% since 2011. Honda is one of the brands which fared badly in the Japanese earthquake and tsunami of 2011. It’s supply chain was severely disrupted, cars were lost and customer promises were broken. When God dealt the cards of force majeure in 2011, Honda received more than their fair share.

It’s still a conservative brand, lacking much in the way of passion or excitement in its range. There’s a new Civic Type R being developed, with a mission to set the fastest front-wheel drive lap around the Nürburgring. That won’t be coming until 2015 though.

Slightly nearer to being launched is the new NSX (as shown at recent motor shows as the Acura NSX Concept), but that’s still 2-years away, so despite the viral success of the company’s Ferris Bueller inspired Super Bowl ads, the brand may fall even further next year while other car makers overtake it to join Interbrand’s Top 100.

What about digital?

The report makes reference to the effect of digital environments on the brand experience, but refers mainly to the buying process (reviews, comparisons and stock locators) rather than the full-life ownership experience – which is where the brand experience by customers is actually validated.

Most Valuable Automotive Brands sorted by social presence

Brand Facebook Twitter Klout score
BMW 11,348,091 72,965 64.3
Ferrari 9,493,524 344,727 89.1
Mercedes-Benz 8,413,889 1,213,058 78.3
Audi 5,830,975 277,160 89.8
Porsche 4,536,499 84,355 87.2
Honda 2,356,756 62,506 86.9
Ford 1,638,940 157,798 90.4
Volkswagen 1,346,716 81,061 71.3
Toyota 1,162,512 103,389 71.5
Nissan 1,056,394 85,086 71.7
Hyundai 488,932 37,681 65.7
Kia 24,307 10,151 54.9
Data as of 4th October, 2012.
Fan count based on US social media accounts.

This is where earned media channels such as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest have played such a big effect and while owned environments (such as microsites, used car locators and configurators) play a part in car sales, the brand as an asset is nurtured (or eroded) in social communities, outside the reach and control of brand owners.

From past reviews here in SkiddMark we’ve singled out Ford, BMW, VW/Audi and Porsche as being the top brands for engaging their customers through social media. MINI would join that list too, as would some of the recent campaigns from Mercedes-Benz.

So it’s interesting to note those same brands dominating the first 8 in the list above, and apart from MINI (whose brand value is too low to appear on Interbrands’s Top 100), these top performing social brands also feature prominently in the most valuable automotive brands continued in this report.

Who says social media doesn’t provide an ROI?

Is a cool brand also a valuable brand?

Perhaps you’re wondering how the recent CoolBrands survey correlates with this brand valuation report? Well, for a start, the CoolBrands report provides an insight into the most successful brands in Britain and is completely subjective, but nevertheless there is some correlation.

Britain’s coolest car brand is of course Aston Martin, which is too small a company to feature on Interbrand’s Best Global Brands, however of the 14 automotive brands that featured in the CoolBrands selection, 5 of them also make Interbrand’s Top 100 (Audi, BMW, Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche).

I suspect the proportion would be even higher if compared against a list of automotive brands filtered by their brand power index (the proportion of total economic value attributable to the brand), which makes sense when you realise that the attractivness of a brand correlates directly with the power that brand has to deliver earnings in a market more effectively than a less attractive brand.

‘Cool’ is a powerful driver of value, provided it’s applied within a well-run business.


One of the most important take-away lessons from this report is the importance of investing in the future of a brand – BMW rightly deserve to be near the top of the rankings in this respect and it will be interesting to see how its new ‘i’ brand impacts on the car makers brand value when it’s launched in 2013.

Had Interbrand ranked brands by their ‘brand power’, I suspect we would have seen a very different outcome. For a start, Ferrari would have featured much higher up the list and brands such as MINI and Aston Martin would have earned a seat at the big table.

The Korean brands are moving in fast (Hyundai and Kia) and it’s interesting to note how competitively they feature compared with their East Asian neighbours (Toyota, Honda and Nissan). Apart from the sheer global scale of Toyota, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Korea overtaking Japan in the next few years.

On a country basis, the Germans are way ahead of other nations in Interbrand’s Top 100, with a total brand value of $80.7bn, compared to Japan – $52.5bn, Korea – $11.5bn, United States – $7.9bn and Italy – $3.7bn.

But the fastest growing brands are Nissan, followed by Hyundai, thereafter BMW, Volkswagen and Audi show the greatest likelihood of moving up in the table next year.

And apart from MINI and Aston Martin, I’d also like to see Jaguar Land Rover in this context. The Tata-owned company has been one of the fastest growing car makers in the world (despite their range of mainly premium products) – and with a new world-beating Range Rover and the desirable 2-seater F-TYPE just launched, all three brands (Jaguar, Land Rover and Range Rover) must be delivering the kind of brand-driven economic growth that Interbrand’s report should be highlighting.

Perhaps they’ll consider publishing a brand power index in 2013.

Images and data: Interbrand.