Peter Walshe, Millward Brown global brand director, said that BMW has been able to effectively communicate what sets it apart from other carmakers, while backing up its message with a "very decent product."
"As one of the great brands in the world, BMW has been absolutely consistent in the long-term regarding what is meaningfully different about their brand, in highly competitive market places," Walshe said.
BMW was also the most valuable auto brand in 2010, while Toyota held the top spot from 2006 until 2009 as well as last year.
Toyota retained its position as one of the world's best brands, but lost its top place in the ranking in the aftermath of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters that affected all Japanese carmakers last year, Walshe said.
"Toyota is certainly seen as a good value, very reliable and very trustworthy, which are all tremendous qualities, especially for mid-range buyers," Walshe said. "The problem with Toyota has to do with its financials, not brand, due to the disasters, which were clearly out of its control."
The disasters in Japan last year also negatively affected the brand-value rankings of Honda, Nissan and Lexus, but all three remained in the top 10. (See chart, bottom)
German success in Asia
Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen and Audi were able to rise in the ranking successfully expanding their presence in Asia, especially in China, Walshe said.
"The reason these three German brands are doing well is because German cars are benefitting tremendously from exports" to Asia, Walshe said.
Hyundai is the first Korean brand to enter the automotive top 10, taking ninth in the ranking. Walshe said Hyundai's brand value benefits from customers worldwide who seek quality and style at a better price than that charged by the premium brands.
The 2012 Top 100 ranking is led by Apple, which has a brand value of $182.9 billion and ranks first for the second year in a row. IBM, with a brand value of $116.0 billion, took the No. 2 from Google, which now ranks third and is valued at $107.9 billion.
Millward Brown measures brand equity based on interviews with more than 1 million consumers globally and an analysis of the financial and business performance of each company using data from Bloomberg and Datamonitor.