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Starring Rolls

The latest crop of movie cars continues a long tradition

June 26, 2002|TERRIL YUE JONES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It's 2054 and Officer John Anderton, on the run from fellow cops, is fleeing in a wall-crawling magnetic-levitation car.

But the car that actor Tom Cruise uses in Steven Spielberg's just-opened "Minority Report" was built 53 years before the timeline in the movie.

It was done in 2001 for Lexus, a luxury brand eager to get its cars in a featured movie role.

The pod-shaped MagLev represents just one of a fleet of coveted automotive product placements in new and upcoming Hollywood films.

Lexus has two designs in the futuristic thriller--both fanciful concept vehicles. One is the MagLev, the other a more conventional sports car.

"It's really about getting the Lexus name and brand out there in front of folks who may never have considered a Lexus before," said Nancy Hubbell, spokeswoman for the luxury division of Toyota Motor Corp.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday June 27, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 10 inches; 386 words Type of Material: Correction
James Bond cars--An article in Wednesday's Highway 1 section said the Aston Martin DB5 was the car driven by Sean Connery "at the outset" of the James Bond films. Although Bond drove the DB5 in 1964's "Goldfinger," he drove a Sunbeam Alpine in the first Bond film, "Dr. No" (1962).
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For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday July 03, 2002 Home Edition Highway 1 Part G Page 2 Business Desk 1 inches; 53 words Type of Material: Correction
Hollywood cars--An article in last week's Highway 1 said the Aston Martin DB5 was the car driven by Sean Connery "at the outset" of the James Bond films. Although Bond drove the DB5 in "Goldfinger" (1964), he drove a Sunbeam Alpine in the first Bond film, "Dr. No" (1962).

Lexus gets to be seen as a technology leader, using features available today--including adaptive laser cruise control--as well as imaginative future functions such as DNA recognition and retina-scanning entry systems.

At the premiere in Los Angeles this evening of "Men in Black II," moviegoers will see stars Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones--and the all-new 2003 Mercedes-Benz E-Class, which goes on sale in the U.S. at the end of summer. The tricked-out Mercedes is the MIB agents' preferred ride in the new film.

"There's high buzz potential that we hope will attract early adopters and younger buyers," said Carol Goll, general manager for brand events marketing for Mercedes-Benz USA.

On July 26, when the third Austin Powers film opens, actor Mike Myers will take to the streets in a Jaguar XK8--tarted up with a red-white-and-blue Union Jack paint job.

And actor Pierce Brosnan's Agent 007 will be reunited this fall with Aston Martin, the exotic marque that actor Sean Connery drove at the outset of the long-running James Bond movie franchise.

A year from now actress Carrie-Anne Moss will engage in a gritty chase scene in the sequel to the science fiction thriller "The Matrix." She'll be driving a Cadillac Escalade EXT pickup, pursued by bad guys in a Cadillac CTS sedan.

"Putting Cadillacs in front of an aspirational crowd is exposure you can't buy," said Susan Docherty, marketing director for the Escalade, Cadillac's hot-selling SUV.

"You can't get a teenager to sit down and watch a bunch of Cadillac commercials," she said. But the chase in "The Matrix Reloaded," which will be released in spring 2003, amounts to an extreme commercial teens are likely to eat up.

General Motors Corp., which makes Cadillacs, has a deal with Warner Bros. that gives the world's largest auto maker first right of refusal to provide cars and trucks for the studio's films.

Cars have long had memorable roles in film. The 1949 Mercury that James Dean was seen driving in "Rebel Without a Cause" (1955), James Bond's Aston Martin DB5 in "Goldfinger" (1964), the Volkswagen Beetle named Herbie in "The Love Bug" (1968) and Steve McQueen's 1968 Mustang GT in "Bullitt" (1968) are vivid examples.

Cars get on screen in one of three ways: Auto makers lend vehicles at filmmakers' requests, pay for product placement or enter co-marketing agreements.

Mercedes-Benz says it never pays for product placement. But with "Men in Black II," it struck a marketing deal that includes Mercedes commercials this summer that tie into the movie's tongue-in-cheek theme of saving Earth from alien monsters.

DaimlerChrysler also is licensing use of the Mercedes three-pointed star in a children's toy for the first time: a model E-Class that morphs into a Strike Cruiser Vehicle, a space-going rocket that lets the MIB agents in the film chase an alien spaceship. The toy version, made by Hasbro, comes with an action figure of agent Jay, played by Will Smith.

It's the first major Mercedes vehicle placement in a film since the M-Class sport utility vehicle figured prominently in "The Lost World," the 1997 sequel to "Jurassic Park."

For Aston Martin, the association with James Bond is priceless.

"Bond's a great link for us. He started out in the DB5," said Cristina Bruzzi, marketing manager for the Ford Motor Co.-owned British marque.

(In the original Bond books by the late Ian Fleming, the agent started out with a supercharged Bentley.)

Not that Aston Martin needs the publicity for the Vanquish that Brosnan as Bond will drive in "Die Another Day." The 460-horsepower V-12 sports car is sold out in the U.S. for the next two years--at a sticker price of $228,000.

But auto makers don't always believe it's in their interest to cooperate.

The makers of the 1995 film "Heat," starring Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, wanted to borrow a Lincoln Town Car for De Niro's character, a hardened gangster.

Not eager to perpetuate the Town Car's image as a hoodlum's wheels of choice, Lincoln parent Ford declined.

The filmmakers went ahead and rented a Town Car anyway.

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Terril Yue Jones writes about the automobile industry for The Times from Detroit. He can be reached at t.jones@latimes.com.

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