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Licensed vehicle alternate modes

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Though many (and some might even say most) Transformers toys are designed to resemble Earth vehicles, only a significant minority actually represent specific Earth vehicles, the majority having been fudged so as not to have to pay royalties to the actual owners of these vehicle designs.

The exception to this is when Hasbro, TakaraTomy or both acquire a license specifically to make a toy mold of a given vehicle. These licenses are most often with car manufacturers across the world, but have recently expanded to include aircraft and other military hardware.

The notion of Transformers toys being officially licensed replicas of vehicles is a fairly recent one, and even more recent in Hasbro and TakaraTomy actually embracing it with gusto. It can be a risky decision, as licenses need to be maintained and working relationships with the originating companies fostered. Molds whose licenses have expired are unable to remain in production, thus lessening the potential for redecos and remolds. As well, the companies granting the licenses often request a level of creative control over the characters created from their licensed property.

HistoryEdit

Generation OneEdit

Even though the original Generation One Autobot Cars released in 1984 and 1985, just like their Diaclone predecessors, were closely based on existing car models, none of them were officially licensed. In some instances, sponsor decals of racing cars were slightly altered ("Gitanes" becoming "Citanes", "Martini" becoming "Martinii", "Alitalia" becoming "Alitalla" etc.) in order to avoid legal trouble with those companies.

An odd case is the Autobot Car Jazz (based on a Porsche 935 Turbo), whose original European version, released by Milton Bradley in 1985, sported an additional "Porsche" note after the name "Jazz" on the packaging. It's still unclear whether this was supposed to indicate a licensed vehicle, or was merely intended to highlight a domestic vehicle, as the MB toys were also available in Germany.

Robots in DisguiseEdit

Although the three Robots in Disguise Autobot Brothers Prowl, Side Burn and X-Brawn were all based on licensed vehicles (Prowl on a Lamborghini Diablo, Side Burn on a Dodge Viper and X-Brawn on a Mercedes-Benz ML320 SUV), Takara released their Car Robots versions without a license. When Hasbro brought over the Car Robots line as Robots in Disguise, they also intended to avoid having to pay license fees, although they retooled X-Brawn's headlights as compared to the Car Robots version in order to make the vehicle look "different" from a real Mercedes.

However, Dodge/Daimler Chrysler apparently still considered Side Burn's vehicle form too close to a real Dodge Viper. Therefore, they pressured Hasbro into acquiring a license. Starting with the red "new style" redeco of RID Side Burn, all subsequent versions of the mold were officially licensed, and in return sported a small official Dodge Viper logo on top of the front grille. Furthermore, the last release of the mold, the Wal*Mart exclusive Universe Deluxe from 2004, even sported a "Viper" sticker on the front of the packaging, and a "Dodge Official Licensed Product" sticker on the back of the packaging.

The established licensing relationship between Hasbro and Daimler-Chrysler/Dodge was presumably also the reason why a Dodge Viper was one of the first vehicles to be actually released as part of the Alternators line.

A few months after the "new style" redeco of RID Side Burn had come out, Hasbro also released a Wal-Mart exclusive two-pack of retools/redecos of the Generation 2 Laser Cycles Road Rocket (based on a Yamaha GTS1000A motorcycle) and Road Pig (based on a Harley-Davidson Electra Glide motorcycle), named Sideways and Axer, respectively. One of the inside flaps of the packaging for the two-pack contained a copyright note identifying the two toys as licensed Yamaha and Harley-Davidson vehicles, respectively. (The G2 versions of the two molds had also still been unlicensed.)

Alternators/BinaltechEdit

Hasbro and Takara finally jumped in with both feet in 2003, launching a toyline that was entirely composed of licensed vehicle modes. Some of this line was leveraged by the companies' growing relationship with the Daimler-Chrysler corporation, with some of the toys using vehicle modes by Daimler-Chrysler subsidiaries Dodge and Jeep. Other car manufacturers participating were Fuji Heavy Industries (Subaru), Mazda, General Motors (Chevrolet), Ford, Honda (including its US subsidiary Acura) and Toyota (plus its US subsidiary Scion). It should be noted that most of these companies have their parent companies based either in Japan or the United States. The only genuine European manufacturer willing to license one of their vehicles was Jaguar.

The Alternators line hit some snags in its early development stages when Hasbro approached Porsche and Volkswagen with plans to make new toys of Jazz and Bumblebee, respectively. Protypes of Jazz as a Porsche 986 were made, but Porsche refused to grant Hasbro and Takara the license, arguing that Transformers are "war machines" and thus "not worthy [of] carrying the Porsche trademark."[1] As a consequence, the toy ultimately never went into production. Volkswagen had similar concerns as Porsche, what with not wanting to be associated with "war toys", therefore the design (as a Volkswagen New Beetle) never made it past the 2D stage. The prototype for Jazz was later shown in the Japanese book Transformers: Binaltech & TF Collection Complete Guide and during the BotCon 2007 Hasbro Tour, and control drawings for both Bumblebee and Cliffjumper were also published in the same book.

Other companies also had their own objections: General Motors/Chevrolet initially denied Hasbro and Takara the license for a new version of Tracks based on a Chevrolet Corvette Z06 for unknown reasons. Unlike other companies, they later had a change of mind, but not before the real-life C5 generation Corvette was about to be phased out of production, making the toy (and its redecos) seem somewhat outdated when they were finally released. An Alternators toy based on a Mini Cooper was allegedly also in the works in 2004 (semi-confirmed by early preorders for a Binaltech version), but Hasbro and Takara reportedly failed to obtain the required license. Rumors of actually existing prototypes were never confirmed, however.

Along the same lines, Honda's North American branch urged Hasbro to omit a long gun barrel accessory from the Alternators version of Windcharger (a Honda S2000), together with all references to "weapons" from the packaging. Even though Honda's Japanese branch had no such concerns, allowing Takara to release their Binaltech version of the toy (named Overdrive) with the full barrel, Honda Japan insisted that the packaging must not feature any official Honda logos... out of fear that customers might mistake it for an official Honda product, rather than a licensed product by a third party.[2] There were also store listings for an unspecified Mitsubishi vehicle which ultimately never materialized... and Hasbro themselves confirmed at BotCon 2006 that a Cadillac XLR (as Megatron) would have been the next mold in the line, had Alternators not been cancelled.

Eventually much of the Alternators, Binaltech, and derived toylines (such as Binaltech Asterisk and Kiss Players) had to be taken out of production due to the expiration of the licenses which initially allowed their release.

Star Wars TransformersEdit

Beginning in 2006, Hasbro leveraged its existing license to produce Star Wars toys for Lucasfilms with its ownership of the Transformers brand. The resulting toys were considered Transformers, but not Cybertronians and had no ties to prior franchise fiction. Rather, the figures were mecha piloted by Star Wars characters, and each included a "pilot" figure.

In 2008, Hasbro rolled this toyline into the greater umbrella of their new Transformers Crossovers brand.

2007 MovieEdit

The advent of the 2007 live-action movie required licensing on a grand scale, as nearly all alternate modes featured in the film had to be at least nominally real-life vehicles. DreamWorks/Paramount reached what must be assumed to have been a very lucrative deal with General Motors, using vehicles from their product line as the movie's Autobots' alternate modes almost exclusively. All of those vehicles were also licensed to Hasbro for their accompanying toyline. Barricade, meanwhile, whose vehicle mode was based on a Ford Mustang, was licensed by Saleen (who had provided a tuned up Saleen S281 "Extreme" Mustang for the movie), because Ford didn't want one of their cars used as a "villain". Therefore, Barricade sports no "Ford" logos in the movie. Only Optimus Prime didn't require a license at all, since his vehicle mode in the movie - a Peterbilt 379 - was heavily genericized, and all manufacturer logos were removed.[3] TakaraTomy even identifies the Leader Class toy as a Kenworth W900 instead of a Peterbilt 379.[4]

On a rather bizarre note, even the Robot Replicas figures of Bumblebee and Autobot Jazz were licensed (whereas the Barricade figure wasn't), as was the Turnarounds Unleashed Autobots bust (Autobot Jazz and Autobot Ratchet, only released in Australia and Asia since it was cancelled for the US market). Since the figures and the bust don't actually transform, and the copyright remark for the bust only mentions Pontiac but not Hummer, this was likely due to the fact that the robot modes feature the official manufacturer logos on their chests.

In addition, a new development in the official licensing of vehicle modes came in the fact that the movie used real-life military vehicles as well, namely the Sikorsky MH-53 Pave Low helicopter, the Lockheed-Martin F-22 Raptor and the Force Protection Buffalo mine-protected vehicle - in fact, even the Starscream Barrel Roll Blaster role-play accessory was an officially licensed toy based on an F-22 Raptor!

Meanwhile, new-mold toys inspired by non-transforming vehicles that appeared in the movie, such as Longarm (based on a GMC Topkick tow-truck), Incinerator (based on a Bell Helicopter V-22 Osprey) and Stockade (based on a Cadillac Escalade SUV), again had their alternate forms modified in order to avoid having to acquire licenses (for example, Longarm's toy was more closely based on a Ford F-350 truck). The only exception to this was Landmine, who was based on a Sector Seven buggy specifically designed for the movie. Therefore, Hasbro was able to keep the toy's vehicle form spot on to the movie vehicle, since they didn't require an additional license aside from the obligatory DreamWorks/Paramount one.

Unfortunately, due to issues of vehicle-mode licensing and the fact that the robot designs are the shared intellectual property of DreamWorks/Paramount, it is a virtual certainty that the Movie toys will never be made available as redecos in other franchises or as convention exclusives. So get 'em while the getting's good!

UniverseEdit

In August 2007, a particularly odd toy with a licensed vehicle mode turned up. The purported character was Swerve, though the toys were poly-bagged with no character bio. The vehicle mode was a General Motors Chevrolet Aveo. To make matters even more complicated, the instructions sheet included within the polybag marked Swerve as part of the Universe line (using the logo of the original toyline of that name launched in 2003 rather than that of the second line of that name officially launched in 2008).

Early reports throughout the fandom, tepidly verified by Hasbro sources, suggested that the mold's creation had been commissioned by General Motors for that company's exclusive use; neither Hasbro or TakaraTomy can use it in their own lines. This amounts to the first time that a "mainstream" Transformer mold was created to be an exclusive (as opposed to things like Happy Meal toys which are obviously distinct from standard product and cost far less to design and produce). The prevailing theory for the toy's existence was that it may have been commissioned as part of an advertising budget tax writeoff. "We spent X amount of money so we don't have to pay Y amount of taxes on our profits; thanks, Byzantine corporate tax laws!"

Not only were the exact origins of this toy a mystery, but also its intended purpose. When samples of the toy first turned up in China, it was claimed that the toy was supposed to be available as a freebie for buying a real-life Chevy Aveo... which would have easily made it the single most expensive Transformers toy to obtain in an official capacity. Other rumors claimed that the toy would be available as a freebie for test-driving a Chevy Aveo, or that it was a promotional Chevy exclusive only to be available in China... none of which could ever be verified. What is certain, though, is that the toy was never officially made available in the United States in any capacity whatsoever.

On March 25th 2008, the Chevrolet online store began to offer Swerve as a "special featured item"... but only from its branches in Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates. Depending on the order location and currency conversion rates, he cost approximately $20~$30 before shipping. However, orders from customers in the United States were subject to a "processing" fee of over $50 and a "trans-Atlantic shipping fee" of almost $100(!).

Less than two days later, the order page was taken down without explanation. Several fans report being told by Chevy customer service representatives that Swerve is specifically a European / Middle-Eastern release, and that international licensing restrictions would prevent it being released in the U.S. We knew Chevy/General Motors had gotten close with Hasbro, but, damn.

Toys with licensed vehicle alternate modesEdit

Robots in DisguiseEdit

  • Side Burn (Dodge Viper; only the "new style" redeco of the Deluxe mold)
  • Sideways and Axer (Yamaha GTS1000A and Harley-Davidson Electra Glide motorycles; Wal*Mart exclusive two-pack)

UniverseEdit

Alternators/BinaltechEdit

Binaltech AsteriskEdit

Kiss PlayersEdit

Star Wars TransformersEdit

2007 MovieEdit

  • Bumblebee (Chevrolet Camaro 1976 model)
    • Legends Class toys
    • Deluxe Class toys
    • Cyber Slammers toys
  • Bumblebee (Chevrolet Camaro 2008/2010 concept car)
  • Barricade (Saleen S281 Mustang)
    • Legends Class toys
    • Deluxe Class toys
    • Fast Action Battlers toy
    • Cyber Slammers toys
  • Blackout (MH-53 Pave Low)
    • Legends Class toys
    • Voyager Class toys
    • Fast Action Battlers toys
  • Bonecrusher (Buffalo Mine Protected Vehicle)
    • Legends Class toys
    • Deluxe Class toys
  • Cliffjumper (Chevrolet Camaro 1976 model)
    • Legends Class toys
  • Cliffjumper (Chevrolet Camaro 2008/2010 concept car)
    • Deluxe Class toy
    • Cyber Slammers toy
  • Evac (MH-53 Pave Low)
    • Voyager Class toy
  • Ironhide (GMC Topkick 4500)
    • Legends Class toy
    • Voyager Class toys
    • Fast Action Battlers toys
    • Cyber Slammers toy
  • Autobot Jazz (Pontiac Solstice)
    • Legends Class toys
    • Deluxe Class toys
    • Fast Action Battlers toy
    • Cyber Slammers toy
    • Robot Replicas figure (non-transforming, visible Pontiac logo on robot mode chest)
    • Turnarounds Unleashed Autobots bust (non-transforming, visible Pontiac logo on robot mode chest)
  • Autobot Ratchet (AM General Hummer H2)
    • Legends Class toys
    • Deluxe Class toys
    • Fast Action Battlers toys
    • Cyber Slammers toy
  • Ramjet (Lockheed-Martin F-22 Raptor)
    • Fast Action Battlers toy
  • Smokescreen (Pontiac Solstice)
    • Fast Action Battlers toy
  • Starscream (Lockheed-Martin F-22 Raptor)
    • Legends Class toys
    • Voyager Class toys
    • Fast Action Battlers toy
    • Starscream Barrel Roll Blaster role-play accessory
  • Thundercracker (Lockheed-Martin F-22 Raptor)
    • Voyager Class toy

CrossoversEdit

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

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