China’s Trumpchi E-jet set for ‘Transformers’ role

Reuters, SHANGHAI and BEIJING

Sat, Sep 14, 2013 - Page 15

A Chinese-made car is set to make its international movie debut in the fourth Transformers film next year in a product placement aimed at raising the profile of Chinese models abroad.

The Trumpchi E-jet, a sleek, plug-in electric hybrid developed by state-owned Guangzhou Automobile Group Co Ltd (GAC, 廣州汽車集團), will feature in Transformers: Age of Extinction, the fourth film in the popular franchise due for release in the middle of next year, said two people close to GAC, which is based in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou.

The Transformers series has previously featured other Chinese brands, including personal computer and TV makers Lenovo Group Ltd (聯想) and TCL Corp, and Meters/bonwe, a leading leisurewear brand.

The movies are among the most popular to be released in China, with Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon grossing US$165 million in 2011.

“Product placements with Transformers would boost the profile of GAC’s car brands both at home and abroad,” said one of those close to the carmaker, which has local joint ventures with Fiat SpA, Honda Motor Co Ltd, Toyota Motor Corp and Mitsubishi Motors Corp.

Neither source wanted to be named due to confidentiality agreements they signed in connection with the upcoming film.

A spokesperson for Paramount Pictures, the movie’s distributor, said the company would not confirm specific brands until nearer the release date. Paramount’s local partner, China Movie Channel, declined to comment.

It was not clear if the Trumpchi E-jet would be cast as a heroic Autobot or evil Decepticon — robots that turn into familiar machines and mechanical objects — or have a more limited, non-transforming, drive-on role. One of those close to GAC said the firm would not want the E-jet to be cast in an evil role. Ultimately, casting will be down to the movie’s director, Michael Bay.

Previous Transformers movies have featured an Autobot named Bumblebee based on the Chevrolet Camaro, prompting the company to bring out a Camaro Transformers Special Edition in 2011, which sold more than 1,500 globally, said Michael Albano, a Chevrolet spokesman in Detroit, adding: “We very much look forward to Camaro reprising its role in the upcoming film.”

The E-jet, which GAC showed off at the Detroit auto show in January, is a concept car, which the company currently has no plans to commercialize.

As growth slows in the world’s largest auto market from break-neck speeds over the past decade, GAC aims to have exports of its Trumpchi brand account for a fifth of total sales in five years. It currently sells just a few hundred cars overseas.

Last year, GAC earned a profit of 1.1 billion yuan (US$180 million) on sales of about 13 billion yuan.