There was a buzz in the business world recently when, for the first time in the history of Interbrand's Best 100 Global Brands report, there was a new No. 1. Apple claimed the top spot, Google jumped to No. 2 and Coca-Cola, the brand that held the No. 1 position for 13 consecutive years, fell to No. 3.
Let's take a look at where the car companies ranked. However, before we get into the details, while Interbrand claims to be the world's leading brand consultancy, its rival Millward Brown claimed Interbrand got many facts wrong. This is an inexact science but interesting nonetheless for car fans.
It would appear that the "greener" you are, the higher you rank as global brand. Fourteen companies from the automotive industry made the top 100 and Toyota came out ahead of the pack at No. 10.
A strong brand takes years to build and Toyota came to prominence during the oil embargo of the early 1970s. When oil prices jumped 70 per cent, a lot of people in Europe and North America suddenly became interested in Toyota's small cars that burned less gas and never seemed to break.
Its reputation was further strengthened when Toyota introduced the Prius worldwide in 2000 as the first mass-produced hybrid vehicle. More than three million have been sold and Toyota's early commitment to hybrids has given the company plenty of green cred.
I would argue that subjective measures like the best brands list are trailing indicators based on past performance rather than realities today. Toyota has had massive recalls, sales are slumping and Prius has required heavy discounting. It is up to Toyota to show that its brand can continue to lead the automotive world.
Next up on the list, at No. 11, is Mercedes-Benz. Long the top German luxury brand, Mercedes has slumped to No. 3 in sales. But its reputation, which goes back about 100 years, remains strong and the company is showing new signs of vitality after losing its way with its disastrous "merger of equals" with Chrysler.
Mercedes-Benz is no longer a limousine company and has a new line of fuel-efficient front-wheel-drive compact cars that will challenge Camry and Accord. Mercedes also produces hydrogen fuel-cell stacks in Burnaby, B.C., which is far from a forgotten "green" technology for the not-too-distant future.
Sitting next at No. 12 is BMW which, in other surveys, has shown up as the No. 1 "luxury" brand in the world. BMW builds a number of high-performance, relatively fuel-efficient cars – particularly its all-important 3-Series. BMW has also made a huge gamble on all-electric cars with its revolutionary i3 carbon fibre urban runabout now going on sale. If it's a hit, BMW should rocket up the charts, but it's a risky venture until battery energy density improves and battery prices come way down.
Honda weighs in at No. 20, which seems a bit low. It has long been a brilliant engine manufacturer but its styling, especially at its luxury brand, has lost its way. It's making a big push back into hybrids and, if "green" matters in brand value, it may climb the chart in the future.
Volkswagen is next among auto makers at No. 34. Volkswagen rides its status as the No. 1 nameplate in Europe with the ageless Golf. VW is known as first among diesels in the car and light truck market but many more auto makers are getting serious about diesels with impending fuel economy regs. We'll see if Volkswagen rises or falls in the new reality.
Farther down the list at No. 42 is Ford. This goes back to my point about brand value being a lagging indicator. Ford has made a huge push into small cars (previously it had next to zero) and new powertrains. Its EcoBoost engines are small and fuel-efficient as long as you don't step on the gas too hard – but its hybrids are the best in the business. Ford may surprise in future rankings if "green" really matters.
Right behind Ford at No. 43 is Hyundai. What an amazing decade or so for Hyundai, and sister company Kia (which is at No. 83 in the list), in terms of introducing new technology to non-luxury cars. Take a look at its gas direct-injection engines and wonder why every manufacturer can't have them.
Next up among the car crowd is Audi at No. 51. It keeps winning Le Mans with fuel-efficient diesels and more are coming next year into the Audi lineup.
Porsche comes in at No. 64 and while it is doing a super-performance electric car, it costs three-quarters of a million bucks.
Then Nissan at No. 65, which is ridiculously low given that it is the No. 1 all-electric car company in the world. But it takes time for these things to sort themselves out.
And finally, Chevrolet, which made it to the Top 100 on this list for the first time. Chevy accounts for about half of all vehicles GM sells globally. While not a particularly "green" brand, Chevy is at least building the highest-quality vehicles in its history.
More and more "green" matters in brand value; and if you don't believe me just ask some of those twentysomething car-hating, car consumers of tomorrow.