In 2003, Hasbro launched Transformers: Alternators, a series of extremely detailed 1:24 scale licensed model cars that transformed into classic Transformers characters. Opening doors, hoods, trunks, turning wheels, rubber tires and extensive paint and tampograph details brought the toys to a new level of lifelike realism. The more mature approach to the toys led a great number of fans to closely follow release news, which in turn caused a great deal of misinformation, such as rumors of various manufacturers licensing vehicles, to spread. Alternately, a number of designs were prototyped but then scrapped due to failure by Hasbro to obtain licensing. Similarly, prototypes often featured licensed real-life tire brands, which were all eventually replaced with fictional “Cybertronian Radials”.
The Alternators were all sold in one size class, at around the Voyager Class price point. Each vehicle was licensed from a US or Japanese auto manufacturer (except one, a British Jaguar) and had the automaker’s logo prominently displayed on the front of the package. The line opened with the release of Smokescreen, who featured extensive tampographs of racing sponsor logos, to create a dramatic first impression of this level of detail. Most of the figures included steerable front wheels, often linked by a magnetic tie rod. The Jeep Wranglers included in the line instead featured independent spring suspension on all four wheels. The transformations were generally quite complex, as sacrifices had to be made to have the interiors of the vehicles feature a realistic driving compartment. The robot's weapons were generally disguised as some part of the engine and incorporated into the alternate mode.
Early entries in the line were modeled after popular existing characters, while later entries tended to be redecoes and retools representing either less-known characters, or new characters added to use a mold intended for a name with trademark clearance issues. Due to the slow release of each new toy, Alternators experienced great difficulty with over- or under-stocking of a given character in its assortment. This difficulty in distribution caused slow sales as store shelves clogged with common figures, while others were nearly unobtainable at retail. After a couple package style refreshes, two event exclusives, two store exclusives, and only 27 toys in total, the line ground to a close in 2006.