Transformers, Porsche, Volkswagen, Nazis, and World War II – The myth that keeps on mything

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Now that’s what I call a rubsign!

If there’s one thing I simply cannot stand, it’s misinformation and completely false rumors being perpetuated by the masses.

Following a slew of awesome news from the 2013 Tokyo Toy Fair, TFW2005 made a clarification about a statement regarding MP-20. They relayed information that it will be a figure using a license that has been “very hard to obtain.” Of course this knowledge dug up an age-old preposterous myth that Porsche, and more likely the owners of that brand, The Volkswagen Group, refuse to give Takara or Habsro a license for their branded vehicles. The typical accounted reason for this is that they consider The Transformers to be a brand of “war toys” and the company refuses to be associated with anything relating to war due to their ties to Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany during WWII.

Excuse me, what?

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TFwiki, I love you, but you gotta check your facts this time.

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Well-publicized“? I’ll get to the bottom of that, or my name isn’t Collecticon!

The Facts

While it is true that Adolf Hitler did commission Ferdinand Porsche to create the VW Beetle, Bumblebee’s official G1 alternate mode, and that Volkswagen was founded by the Nazi Trade Union in 1937, it’s been near seventy years since anyone has really thought to ruefully connect the now worldwide company to the long gone Nazi party. In fact, the Beetle was the only model of car the company built for years after the war.

The Volkswagen Group has been known to take their auspicious beginnings very seriously, however. Apparently over 15,000 slaves were reported to have been behind the gears at the first Volkswagen factory during the war.  Holocaust survivors have been awarded reparations to the tune of over $11 million since 1980 from the company, all voluntarily by The Volkswagen Group.

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Presenting Transformers Masterpiece 20 Wheeljack, 1:1 scale!

That license that was “very hard to obtain” for MP20?  Turns out it was the Lancia Stratos Turbo 5, also known as Wheeljack in our circles. What made this so hard to obtain!? If this was so hard to obtain, then the Volkswagen license is to going to be ULTRA HARD to obtain, right!? How will they ever succeed!??!  Oh wait, MP-21 is Bumblebee…

The Evidence

Let’s pretend for a moment that the rumor is true.  Yep: The Volkswagen Group will not allow their post-World-War-2 image and name to be tarnished by allowing their brand to be paired with franchises that further propagate their war-time origins. They have a proud name to withhold and hence they wouldn’t be caught dead partnering with a franchise even closely related to a war theme.  Nothing like “Star Wars,” I mean, it even has war in the name!

So I guess Volkswagen might NOT have a problem with war themes being a part of their brand… hmmm curious, isn’t it?

Ok ok ok, but what about the evidence supporting the rumor?  There has to be some, right?  I mean, rumors don’t just appear out of thin air.

Apparently this post on TFarchive by former Porsche employee Addl is supposed to be some kind of proof of Porche’s wishes to dis-allow war toys, or Transformers especially, to carry the official Porsche license.  To think that this person was quickly transferred to the head-of-all-there-is-to-licensing for Porsche to get this answer is a little hard to swallow, at least for me. All I really see here is internet hearsay that is almost a decade old.

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One of the first Alternators to be designed, Porsche Jazz, only display at the Botcon 2007 Hasbro tour. Photo by collectiondx

During Botcon 2007, Hasbro allowed a rare mass tour through their headquarters to get a good look at how Transformers are made. Many unique pieces were out on display including a peculiar set of alternator-styled figures that no one had seen before.  One was a mini-scale alternator, and the other resembled Autobot Jazz as a full-on Porsche boxter. This is the figure that I consider to be the launching-pad for our little rumor. The widely-accepted claim is that Takara was not able to get the license because The Volkswagen Group, which now owns Porsche, would not allow their brands to be associated with war toys. GI Joe as war toys, I can accept.  Transformers as war toys?  It’s a bit of a stretch, considering how far into the sci-fi fantasy realm it really belongs. This was well before the live-action movies brought Transformers to world-wide attention and as far as most lay-people knew, they were just cars that turned into men.

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Porsche Jazz prototype as seen in Binaltech Collection book. Photo by TFkenkon

The Japanese book “The Transformers: Binaltech & TF Collection Complete Guide,” has a lot of juicy information about the creation of the Binaltech and Alternators toyline. I own this book, but alas, I only speak and read English so I cannot personally vouch for any of the data contined within.  A lot of photos of the pages can be still seen at an ancient post at TFkenkon.

 

In Closing

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The updated Alternators Bumblebee that never was, le sigh

This is not the first instance of a rumor getting out of hand and being taken as stone-cold fact by the Transformers Fandom.  For more than a decade, fans believed that in “Transformers Battlestars: The Return of Convoy” Super Megatron traveled to Earth and killed Galvatron.  In reality, the source of the translation was completely faulty but no one had the sense to re-translate or re-read the source material. Instead, Super Megatron was created from Galvatron’s remains.

So what actually is going on between Volkswagen and the Transformers brand?

The fact remains that we never received an officially licensed VW Bumblebee in Alternators or Binaltech. Not long after, there was Alternity Bumblebee, which was a Suzuki Swift Sport. There have been versions slightly resembling the original version of Bumblebee, like the legends class, but still only 3rd party manufacturers have dared to make a legit Beetle version.

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The unofficial droid that you’ve been looking for.

Licensing is a tricky business. As a licensee, you are basically entering into a contract with your licensor that has some black & white but many gray-area terms. Without a proven track record, most licensors are not going to give you access to their intellectual property. Hasbro and Takara definitely have lengthy proven track records when it comes to the quality of their products, but even they have had ‘trouble’ acquiring certain licenses. Once we saw that the Lamborghini license was granted for the Countach Masterpiece, getting the Volkwagen license should’ve been a shoe-in. Why? Over the years, The Volkswagen Group has acquired quite a few well-known car brands, including, you guessed it, Lamborghini. So why would The Volkswagen Group allow one of the brands under their wing to be tarnished in the form of a “war machine” Transformer toy? The same reason we are seeing 4 different redecos of the mold: Money.

Licenses are essentially an agreement for one party to ‘rent’ a brand of another party and act as the brand owner under a certain set of limitations for a fee. This fee can be set to any amount and is typically negotiated on an individual basis. The terms of the deal are typically set by the licensor and not the licensee.  So it is probable that the number 1 reason, and perhaps the only legitimate reason, why Hasbro or Takara never received the Volkswagen Beetle or Porsche license is due to the fee or the terms being too out their favor. I’m willing to wager that The Volkswagen Group cares a lot more about the money they will make from any particular licensing deal than their precious public image being dragged through the mud. Seriously, there are bigger fish to fry.

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“Let’s go ahead and name them after the cars we ripped them off from!” “Great plan!” – Overheard Takara execs circa 1981

There is also the fact that the original Diaclone toys made by Takara were complete knock-offs of the vehicles they represented, created without any consent from the original intellectual property holders. This practice is still evident today with slight retools of famous cars used for Transformers toys. For instance Cybertron Smokescreen is an ever-so-slightly modified version of the Bugatti Veyron, however there may be a sudden stop put to that particular model’s unlicensed use in the ultra-near future!! Perhaps these car companies have been silently keeping tabs on the Transformers over the years, noting in their logs of the possible copyright infringement, which might have not-so-pleasant effects on the licensing costs that were thrown on the table once Takara came knocking for the real licenses for Alternators Bumblebee and Jazz.

 

There are simply 100’s of reasons why a licensing deal can go sour; none of which involve pretentious chins up against the idea of war toys, but all of which involve dollars, cents, and percentage-per-piece under the licensing agreement. Star Wars did it, and not only that, they affiliated themselves with the bad guys! It’s amazing what magic money can weave…

I may never find absolute evidence about why we haven’t seen a real Volkswagen Bumblebee figure since the franchise began, but hopefully the real truth will come out around the time MP-21 Bumblebee is released to the world. Sooner or later, someone one is going to squash this rumor, and there will be accountable proof of it. This topic will most certainly come up between now and then, and I hope I don’t have to cringe watching a romantic yet most likely falsified hypothesis on Volkswagen’s policies.

So believe what you want but think about it, I mean, REALLY?

9 Comments

  • June 21, 2013 - 1:18 AM | Permalink

    I don’t know. I don’t think you’ve made your case. While you’ve made a few points, none of them seem to invalidate the rumor:

    1. The Volkswagen ads featuring Star Wars characters are really just kids dressed in costumes. It doesn’t have any violent element to it. And as well, these ads were made in the last two years, which are recent enough that if VW has had a change of policy, it could easily date back to then. Perhaps this was even the catalyst?

    2. You also show a bunch of prototypes that never saw the light of day, but how does this validate or invalidate your theory? It doesn’t really do either, but if Hasbro could negotiate a deal for Audis and Lamborghinis, and not VWs, it would seem there is some level of difference between negotiating the two.

    3. Lamborghini. You don’t even have to go as recent as that. An Audi R8 was licensed in Revenge of the Fallen, but Audi and Lamborghini, whether owned by VW or not, are not reflective of the business relationship between Porsche, VW and Nazi Germany. I’m not sure about Audi, but Lamborghini is a VW Group company by acquisition, and it’s known as an Italian brand, not a German brand, and certainly not a Nazi-affiliated one.

    Now, regardless of whether this is true, and regardless of whether someone _should_ still hold a grudge, that has nothing to do with the realities of the situation. I have Jewish friends that would NEVER buy a Mercedes or use an IBM computer for those _exact_ reasons. I can easily see how a brand manager at VW could institute such a policy, whether I agree with it or not. Big brands don’t like controversy.

    The post by Addl is reasoned, logical, and does not smell of bias or corruption, and unfortunately, it’s seemingly all we have to go on, and when you look at that, as well as the examples you provide, I think it seems quite logical and possible that such a policy _has_ been in place. I, too, hope the truth comes out, but until it does, I don’t think anything you’ve posted negates the leading theory.

    Glad to see you posting again though 🙂

  • June 21, 2013 - 10:32 AM | Permalink

    Thanks for the comment Jay.

    While I will not deny your criticism about the post, the main point here is that I am holding the flag of opposition to this ridiculous theory. After being a transfan for the entire life of the brand, it rattles my skull to see these fruitless rumors taken as fact.

    Unfortunately, in this case, all I can present is assumptions. I disagree that the Addl post should carry any sort of weight, for it doesn’t have any evidence. For instance, who was the party that he spoke to? In what capacity did he work for Porsche? How can one individual’s apparently personal vendetta against a toy brand cause such a deal to fall through?

    The rumor originated from the infancy of the rebirth of the brand. The Alternator phase was an exciting time, with the masterpiece line just starting up as well. Imaginations went wild with the possibilities of a real re-launch of G1 figures. When Bumblebee and Jazz were unable to be realized as we expected, people wanted explanations. It’s hard to remember how it ‘felt’ back then to be a Transfan, especially if you’re a movie noob.

    It’s those noobs I don’t want to be preaching the wrong gospel, and hence, this post exists.

  • June 21, 2013 - 10:43 AM | Permalink

    Also FYI, Audi has, for almost half a century, been a subsidiary of The Volkswagen Group. That car company owns a shit ton of car brands. Basically, many Volkswagens and Audis share technology, parts, and even body styles. The Golf or GTI, is the same model as the Audi A3, only the Audi one has more superior upgrades, styling, and creature comforts.

  • Ryan F
    July 8, 2013 - 4:54 PM | Permalink

    The ‘no war toys; thing was never a myth, it was completely true. Time and time again Hasbro representatives were asked at conventions and Q&A sessions about the subject, and the response was always the same – VW and Porsche always refused to deal – why else do you think those prototypes pictured above never made it to the stores?

    Furthermore, your argument about the Lamborghini makes little sense. So Lambo are part of the same group as VW and Porsche – what does that prove? All it means is that the group are willing to licence out their, ahem, untainted marques (Lamborghini as a name didn’t exist at the time of WW2), and proves nothing about the likelihood of similar deals for the VW or Porsche names.

    And one of your statements beggars belief: “I’m willing to wager that The Volkswagen Group cares a lot more about the money they will make from any particular licensing deal than their precious public image being dragged through the mud” REALLY??!!

    You’re seriously suggesting that a car manufacturer with profits in the BILLIONS would gladly perform a volte-face as soon as Takara waves a few grand in their direction? Highly unlikely.

    Look, I’m as pleased as anyone that the VW licencing issues [appear to] have been resolved. I’ve already got a pre-order in for MP Bee.

    But I think to use this news as a springboard to launch a heap of vitriol at people just comes across as needlessly vicious. The fact is that VW and Porsche were previously off-limits for Transformers, and now that situation MAY have changed.

    May I suggest that, by posting your own crowing assumptions with barely concealed glee, you are coming across as no better than those naysayers who predicted an MP Bee would never happen.

  • Tom
    July 8, 2013 - 6:21 PM | Permalink

    We should be used to this sort of thing as there have been numerous about-faces and other unexpected changes from the Transformers brand itself during this time. The thing with what Addl says is he said it nine years ago; it seems petty to question the guy so far down the line, especially in such spiteful terms. TBH it’s quite sad that you’re using what could be very good news for long-standing fans as an excuse to bitch at someone who’s not present to defend themselves.

    Why not accept the obvious – the situation was like that in 2004 and at some point since it’s changed (one possible factor might actually have been Sideways, sneaked into ROTF on-screen via the back door and for the toyline in a genericised but highly recognisable form; seeing as this seems to have caused no strife someone at VW may have realised they’d been over-reacting).

    As Ryan F says it isn’t the cash; licensing is of little monetary value to car giants and is more about making sure any two-bit operation can’t produce merchandise bearing the company’s trademarks than the financial returns (which are a nice little bonus to most). And if it was VW are never, ever going to be short of money made from licencing the Beetle or the 935; the Beetle especially was world-famous for decades before Bumblebee came along.

  • July 8, 2013 - 6:40 PM | Permalink

    I appreciate your additions to the conversations, gentlemen. I agree that yes, The Volkswagen Group refused to deal, that part is painfully obvious. It’s the reasoning behind why that I have the quarrel with.

    We may never find out why. The terms of any given deal is a private affair. I am taking a stance on refuting a romanticized rumor that has been perpetuated for far too long. I believe that Hasbo was not willing to pay the fee that the auto company wanted for the license, for one reason or another, but it had nothing to do with any historic significance in the real world. What good would this article be if I didn’t at least provide an alternative answer to the very question at hand?

    As far as Addl being unable to defend himself, that is simply not true. I have no idea who this individual is other than a 10 year old web posting on a forum. I don’t think he is correct, whether he thinks he is or not. Is that so wrong to say?

    Thanks for stopping by!

  • Archivist Prime
    October 15, 2013 - 8:17 AM | Permalink

    I don’t see anything on Addl’s post or TF Wiki that says Nazis Germany had anything to do with VW denying a license. The idea of “war toys” or having their vehicles associated with war and it not being the image they want could be as simple as “we don’t want guns on our cars”. In the Alternators era there were many similar instances of auto manufacturers who didn’t like that sort of thing; the infamous Windcharger with his twin shields rather than rifle and shield comes to mind.

    You spend a lot of time railing against a fear of Nazi association that no one being cited is using. It’s pure assumption by people who are not being credited as having the facts.

    If it’s simply the case that VW didn’t want guns on their cars, then the Star Wars commercial makes sense, the Audi Transformer in ROTF makes sense, and it makes sense that ten years later maybe the policy has softened enough that Takara might be able to work out some deals for a retro collector’s line.

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  • Bocephus
    December 19, 2016 - 4:09 PM | Permalink

    It is much more likely Hasbro didn’t want to admit they didn’t want to pay the license fee or they couldn’t work an agreement out that favored both parties. Once Takara took the lead in negotiations, bam! We have gotten license after license. Hasbro is cheap cheap cheap but can never be honest with the fans. Smart fans know the truth. If you have ever worked at a big company, you know how it works.

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