Every year, a Boston-based research firm called the Reputation Institute releases its picks for the most reputable companies on the planet. And every year, BMW ranks at or near the top of the list.
In fact, BMW was the world’s No. 1 most reputable brand in 2015, but as Forbes reported in March, it was leapfrogged by Rolex, Walt Disney and Google.
Still, No. 4 worldwide isn’t bad at all.
To come up with its list, the Reputation Institute asks consumers from across the globe how they feel about a company’s esteem, trustworthiness and admirability. That sounds abstract, but the institute insists this is the best way to measure a brand.
“Over 80 percent of an organization’s value is intangible, but very few feel they have the tools to manage and protect these assets,” they write.
So, how does BMW manage and protect its brand so well year after year?
It starts with a design trick.
Continuity counts for so much in the automotive industry. If an automaker has done something the same way decade after decade, it sends a strong signal that they’ve found something that works.
Take that classic BMW grille, which the company has trademarked as a Kidney Grille. It was first introduced in 1933 and has been on the front of every BMW (well, almost) produced since.
“Every BMW makes a striking first impression with elegant curves and a distinct shape,” the company says. “But they’re also designed to be as functional as they are beautiful. For instance, the trademark kidney grille was conceived to reduce drag.”
If you compare a new model with one from the ‘30s, however, that grille and logo on the front would be the only recognizable feature. Today’s models — be it the 3 Series sedan, the M5 convertible, the Z4 Roadster or the BMWi electric vehicle — are the inheritors of generations of innovation.
For example, the company’s engineers over in Bavaria long ago figured out how to create a platform that lets the BMW model enjoy a 50/50 weight balance. That gives the vehicles excellent handling — which is why the company’s TV spots always feature someone driving effortlessly along those winding roads near Big Sur or along the Cote d’Azur.
All of that speaks to the esteem factor consumers worldwide cite when they rank BMW so highly.
i8 Technology: Key Features of Modern BMW Models
Next comes admirability. BMW does a great job of positioning itself as a luxury vehicle, but not too luxurious. It’s a kind of higher quality that feels accessible to most drivers, not patrician like a Bentley.
A big factor in that sense of quality is the technology that comes standard in many BMWs you buy today. Those adaptive headlights and heads-up windshield displays are nice touches that are both intuitive and functional — kind of like when you first unbox an iPhone.
BMW’s Safety Ratings
Then, there is the remaining 20% that comprises a brand’s reputation, and it’s quite tangible. Admirableness and esteem aside, consumers understand that an automaker’s long-term value comes from its ability to build safe, trustworthy vehicles.
The 2016 2 Series, for example, gets excellent scores from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which gave it the distinction of being a TOP SAFETY PICK+. That means the car scored highly in a range of crash tests, and it got top marks for front crash prevention.
It’s the same thing for the X1 small SUV, which earned Good crashworthiness scores for all of the IIHS’s tests.
The One Point Against: Resale Values
Unfortunately, that trustworthiness and esteem don’t translate to resale values for BMWs.
Edmunds reports that the M3 is the best among all mid-range luxury cars at holding its resale value, but most other models fail to perform as well.
Here’s what Investopedia has to say about the 7 series: “When they roll off of the dealer’s lot, these technological marvels offer all of the latest gadgets and electronic gizmos that Germany’s best engineers can fit into a car. But these high-tech toys have a questionable long-term track record in terms of reliability.”
That’s because when all of that tech wears down, it becomes expensive to repair.
That said, a BMW without bells and whistles is still a fantastic (ahem, Ultimate Driving) machine. There is plenty of opportunity for value when you’re in the market for a used sedan, coupe or SUV.
As CheatSheet points out, a 3 series that’s a few years old is still a coveted vehicle — and each month it sits on the lot represents hundreds or even thousands in savings for consumers. In 2015, CheatSheet calculated that the wholesale price of a 2011 328i fell nearly $1,200 in three months: From $20,170 in December 2014 to $18,953 in March.