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Big Three car brands built buzz in 2010

Laura Rauch / EPA

Ford's charismatic CEO Alan Mulally probably has something to do with the company's improved brand perception.

The Big Three U.S. automakers just completed a big comeback year, and that extends to a vastly improved perception among potential customers.

Ford, General Motors and Chrysler brands accounted for six of the nation’s 10 biggest brand “buzz improvers” for 2010, according to the YouGov BrandIndex. Meanwhile, Japan's Toyota and oil giant BP were the biggest losers of the year in brand perception, according to the index.

Ford not only showed a huge improvement but also ranked No. 3 among more than 1,100 brands tracked by YouGov, a global market research firm. Ford got huge positive media attention in 2010 not only for its strong sales and well-received products but also for its ability to avoid a costly government bailout. Both GM and Chrysler were forced to file for bankruptcy protection in 2009 and were able to emerge only with taxpayer assistance.

The Big Three U.S.-based automakers are hoping to build on the buzz at the upcoming Detroit auto show, which opens for press previews Monday.

Toyota is trying to rebuild its reputation after problems that include a huge recall tied to sudden acceleration problems. BP's reputation was darkened by a massive oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico that killed 11 people and led to the nation's biggest oil spill.

Insurance giant AIG showed the biggest buzz improvement for the year, although only because it had such a low negative perception at the end of 2009 after its disastrous collapse and taxpayer bailout.  Similarly banking giants Merrill Lynch, Citibank and Wachovia showed major perception improvements but were still considered to have negative buzz at the end of the year.

The strongest brands for 2010, according to the BrandIndex:

  1. Subway
  2. History Channel
  3. Ford
  4. Lowe's
  5. Google

In 2009, Google topped the list and Ford was not even among the top 50.

The annual ranking is created by averaging daily scores of more than 1,100 brands tracked by the company, which polls 5,000 Americans daily out of a panel of 1.5 million individuals. Brands are tracked on a scale of 100 to minus 100, depending on whether they get mostly positive or negative feedback.

Want to know where Outback Steakhouse and Disneyland rank? You can find the top 50 and more at the YouGov website.