No industry is in the environmental spotlight like autos. It transformed the globe and remains the most impactful on the planet and on humanity.
That's why it's especially encouraging to see car companies stepping up around the world to the sustainability challenge, certainly in how they're approaching the environmental impact of their vehicles but also in a myriad other ways including engineering and design, manufacturing practices, future-product planning and even marketing.
In fact, auto makers hold four of the top five spots in Interbrand's Best Global Green Brands 2013 report: No. 1 Toyota, No. 2 Ford, No. 3 Honda, and No. 5 Nissan.
Toyota grabbed the top spot in the Interbrand ranking for the third year in a row, largely by dint of its creation and dominance of the hybrid-vehicle market with Prius. The company launched Prius into uncertainty but within a decade used it to prove that hybrids could be a mainstream proposition. And last year, Toyota sold nearly 3 million Prius models worldwide, including 1.2 million in the US alone. Toyota also expanded the number of Prius models last year to broaden the franchise.
Ironically, Toyota essentially has given up on all-electric vehicles as impractial for rank-and-file consumers, but it is doubling down on hybrids, with plans to roll out an additional 20 hybrid models over the next three years.
Meanwhile, Ford, which rang in at No. 2 on the report, completed a mileage-centric overhaul of nearly its entire US product line. The company also has made its EcoBoost brand a star of the market in the US and China. Featuring a combination of technologies such as direct injection and turbocharging, EcoBoost engines provide an attractive blend of power and fuel economy. Ford plans to double the number of EcoBoost models in Europe and is debuting the brand in India soon.
No. 3 Honda and No. 5 Nissan also achieved their green status largely through their exemplary efforts to make their vehicles more fuel-efficient and to take the risks of bold experimentation with electrified cars such as the Honda Fit EV and the Nissan Leaf, the first mainstream battery-powered model. Leaf has vastly undersold expectations so far, but Nissan has stuck with the nameplate, coming up with a more affordable version and pushing Leaf in Europe as well as the United States.
Sustainable manufacturing also has become a commonality across the auto industry, from the grass grown on the roof of a Ford plant in Dearborn, Mich., to Honda's green initiatives throughout factories and dealerships, to Toyota's Ecoful Town in Toyota City, Japan. On Wednesday, Volkswagen was showing off to journalists its two-year-old plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., whose environmental performance is serving as a model for the company's $600 million commitment to researching and implementing new technology and sustainability practices around the globe and to reducing VW's energy consumption by 25 percent by 2018.
As carmakers continue to strive to heighten their green performance by meeting tough new emissions standards and sorting out the right approaches to the propulsion technology of the future, there's no doubt they'll continue to keep their industry highly ranked in sustainability success.
Disclosure: Interbrand is the parent company of brandchannel.