On the Road

Recent deals involving Elle magazine, Star Wars, and designer Inès de la Fressange, among others, serve as a reminder of the strong marriage between special-edition automobiles and licensed properties of all types:

• Entertainment. In December, Nissan released a series of seven concept cars tied to Star Wars: The Last Jedi, each inspired by a different character and paired with a different vehicle model. Marvel Studios similarly partnered with Lexus for a Black Panther-inspired 2018 LC Inspiration Series car. Other examples include logical alliances such as The Lotus Evora Sport 410 James Bond Tribute car, commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Lotus Esprit’s appearance in The Spy Who Loved Me, and the Ford Mustang Bullitt, marking the 50th anniversary of the Mustang’s starring role in that film. And not all examples involve properties featuring cool vehicles: over the years, special editions have paired the Simpsons with Renault, Justice League comics with Kia, SpongeBob with Toyota, and Hello Kitty with Smart USA.

• Sports events and athletes. Fiat is offering a Fiat 500X Fulham FC edition this year, tied to the British soccer club, while Jeep is presenting the Jeep Renegade Tough Mudder edition, based on the obstacle course competition. Hyundai partnered with Olympic gold-medal cyclist Sir Bradley Wiggins and his team for a special-edition Santa Fe Premium SE model that was available in the U.K. back in 2016. And of course race car drivers are a natural tie-in. Porsche is releasing a series of three Porsche 911 Carrera 4 GTS British Legends Edition cars this year, each designed by a different Porsche driver who has won the Le Mans auto race. Meanwhile, Aston Martin is promoting a Red Bull Racing edition of its Vantage S model, signed by two drivers on this Formula One team.

• Magazines. Elle is the latest example, with the Citroën C3 Elle announced in January. The made-to-order cars, available in France, support the Elle Women in Society program, an initiative that highlights women’s role in the workplace. A couple of years ago, Cosmo partnered with Seat for a limited-edition Mii utility vehicle sold across Europe.

• Musicians. Rapper Tinie Tempah’s entertainment company Disturbing London forged a deal with Smart for special-edition Smart ForTwo and Smart ForFour cars, based on the Brabus edition of each model. In 2017, Rolls-Royce announced a collaboration involving a series of British musicians—Ray Davies, Roger Daltry (two cars), Giles Martin (a tribute to his father George Martin), Shirley Bassey, Francis Rossi of Status Quo, and Ronnie Wood—each of whom designed a custom version of the Wraith integrating elements inspired by their music.

• Fashion labels. A number of designers have paired with car companies for special editions, including Inès de la Fressange this year with the Citroën DS3. Over the years, other examples have included Joseph Abboud with the Buick Regal, Filson with Jeep, Gucci with Fiat, Nautica with Mercury, and Spanish designer Modesto Lomba with Toyota.

• Corporate brands. Examples in this segment have ranged from outdoors brands such as Eddie Bauer (with Ford) and Orvis (Jeep Grand Cherokee) to toy brands including Hot Wheels (with Camaro) and Barbie (Fiat 500). There have also been a number of vehicle co-brands, such as Harley-Davidson with the Ford F-150.

Each of these ventures (along with the many others that have appeared over the years) takes a slightly different form. Prices can be comparable to those for regular-edition models, or even slightly less given the added features, or they can reflect a premium over standard models. Quantities vary as well; only 100 Jeep Renegade Tough Mudder editions are available in the U.K. market this year, while the Ford and Eddie Bauer deal encompassed several SUV and truck models and was in effect from 1991 to 2010, with the Eddie Bauer Explorer being particularly popular. Some special editions are not available for sale at all, as is the case with the Star Wars example above. In that instance, the vehicles are simply exhibited at car shows around the country.

The amount of customization to make the edition “special” also runs the gamut from not much to extreme. The Black Panther Lexus features an exclusive color of blue paint, a panther’s claw design for the side-view mirror and a mask inlay on the hood, glow-lighting underneath, and a custom kit to widen the body, not to mention elements billed as infused with vibranium, the ore found on the fictional planet of Wakanda, where the Black Panther resides. The Inès de la Fressange DS3 integrates stylish colors of ink blue and opal white, as well as her signature “Inès Red”; has rear window frames highlighted by red, white, and blue stripes influenced by airmail designs; and comes with a handbag. On the other end of the spectrum, the Orvis Jeep simply had a green interior and a small logo.

In many cases, special-effects artists, celebrities, editors, fans, or others connected with the property will have a hand in the design.

As these examples show, pairings of licensed properties and special-edition automobiles are not just a flash in the pan. Carmakers have been offering special-edition models almost forever, and they need a constant flow of ideas that will appeal to their core fans, give them something new to spotlight at car shows, and generate mainstream publicity for the brand. Licensors, meanwhile, see these collaborations as an opportunity to promote their properties in a way that—while increasingly common—still stands out among other licensing and promotional deals. In a few cases, they can even generate some revenue.

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