Ford, Jeep ball caps, T-shirts and other tie-ins generate more than $1 billion a year (2024)

When Bronco Bricc soap went on sale in mid-May for $8 apiece, all 40,000 bars sold in three days.

The partnership between Ford Motor Co. and the Dr. Squatch brand, which "provides organic and natural handmade soap to men who want to feel like a man and smell like a champion," is but one example of licensing and merchandising deals that generate an estimated $1 billion in retail sales annually.

"It's just crazy," Marsha Schroeder, Ford director of global merchandising, told the Detroit Free Press.

Ford is not alone. General Motors and Stellantis also are seeing a surge in sales of products associated with their popular brands. Everything from ball caps and T-shirts to Dodge balls and scaled-down vehicles for children.

Jeep sells rugged Merrell brand Moab boots for $169.99 at Moosejaw and Dick's Sporting Goods. Other styles (and prices) are available at REI and LA Police Gear. Wolverine work boots include Ram collection Rebel and Tradesmen boots for $139.97 at Boot Barn or Country Outfitters. (That deal also led to a big donation for nonprofit programs benefiting skilled trades.)

A streetwear collaboration with Warren Lotas featuring images of the Dodge Demon SRT muscle car sold out in 56 minutes, with the sneakers selling out in just seven minutes, said Kim Adams House, Stellantis director of global licensing and merchandising. T-shirts from a second Dodge Demon collection, "Forged in Flames," sold out within 10 minutes.

Ford, Jeep ball caps, T-shirts and other tie-ins generate more than $1 billion a year (1)

Jeep merchandise is sold in the U.S. as well as Italy, Brazil, Malaysia and countries in Africa, House said. "Our licensing program has grown from 2017 over 100%. One of our largest markets for the Jeep brand is Asia. We have stand-alone Jeep stores with hats and shirts and shoes."

Grown-up clothes and kiddie cars

Stellentis plans to reveal a collaboration with a popular lifestyle brand later this year, House said. The clothing is known for its classic style on the East Coast.

While adult consumers are a key target for car merch, so are their children. And it's growing. Dodge has seen success partnering with Lego to create kits for boys and girls to build classic and modern Charger and Challenger cars.

A quick peek online reveals these latest offers this week:

◾ $499.99 at Target for a modern gray Bronco with removable doors that travels up to 5 mph for ages 3 to 7.

◾ $120 at Wal-Mart for a classic red Bronco that travels up to 3 mph for ages 3 to 6.

◾ $249.99 at Walmart for a topless pink Jeep that travels up to 3 mph for ages 3 to 8.

◾ $199 at Walmart for a pink Chevy Tahoe that travels up to 3 mph for ages 3 to 6.

◾ $526.19 at Bed Bath & Beyond for a gray two-seat Chevy Silverado with LED headlights and remote control.

Lucy McLellan, of Birmingham, Michigan, the global head of marketing for Jeep, purchased a Ride-On black Wrangler for her son Albert (known as "Bertie") when he was a year old.

"He would always point at my Wrangler, 'Want Mommy car. Want Mommy car,' " McLellan said.

Ford, Jeep ball caps, T-shirts and other tie-ins generate more than $1 billion a year (2)

Then Bertie's little sister, Minnie, felt she needed one, too. She ended up with a pink Power Wheels Barbie Jeep Wrangler (currently sold at Walmart and Kohl's for $359.99.)

So now the 5-year-old Bertie and his 3-year-old sister go cruising together, Mom said.

At Ford, Sydney Sweeney was just one success story

"We've been experiencing some exceptional growth for the past two years," said Ford's Schroeder, who worked in retail buying and product development at Macy's and Gap while later managing licensing at Coca-Cola. "We have an incredible amount of support from senior leaders. They believe in the power of merchandise to really position ourselves as a lifestyle brand. The strategy is working."

Ford reset its strategy shortly after CEO Jim Farley, who spent much of his career in marketing. took the helm in 2020, she said.

Sydney Sweeney, an Emmy-winning actress with her own workwear clothing line in partnership with Ford and Dickies called Ford x Sydney Sweeney, created bib overalls, work pants, bandannas and baseball caps with a label that said "Ford" and "Syd's Garage." Talk show host Drew Barrymore raved. The items sold out in 31 hours.

Ford, Jeep ball caps, T-shirts and other tie-ins generate more than $1 billion a year (3)

Ford launched a clothing deal with Forever 21 spotlighting '90s garage culture and vintage style that filled windows at the store in Times Square. The Zara women's clothing line embraced Mustang heritage with denim work shirts and racing jackets. Both did very well with consumers, Schroeder said.

Cold Culture streetwear in Europe has a Cold Culture x Ford collection that splashes the company name all over hoodies sold for $97 to $110, tees sold for $58 to $64 and jackets sold for $150 and $160. The website teases the product line with provocative phrases such as "The pulse of acceleration resonating in your veins" and "You are in control."

Ford has scheduled a series of new product launches in the coming months that she declined to discuss.

The actual name "Ford" is the biggest seller, followed by Mustang, Bronco, Ford Performance, F-150 and "Built Ford Tough." Ford saw an uptick in sales after Mustang celebrated its 60th anniversary and around the race at the Le Mans, France.

A sophisticated approach

While car company merchandise is sold online, much is also available in brick-and-mortar stores. They include Costco, Sam's Club, Abercrombie & Fitch, Bloomingdale's and Nordstrom.

"Our mission for Stellantis is to build brand affinity, aspiration and generate revenue," House said. "We engage in contractual agreements with companies or manufacturers to build our custom products that are trademarked. When you engage in a contract from start to finish, that can take anywhere from 12 months to 18 months to bring a product to market and then realize revenue. Royalty revenue on the merchandise side is different. That's a much quicker turnaround. You can develop a product in the span of weeks."

Stellantis is working with more than 300 licensees in some 150 countries and even has licensed product fans who created merch on their own, unauthorized. A designer in Chicago created a rogue Jeep clothing line for women that included leggings and unusual colors, seeking to fill a niche she couldn't find, and Stellantis liked it so much it chose to license her instead of challenge her right to sell branded clothing, House said.

Ford, Jeep ball caps, T-shirts and other tie-ins generate more than $1 billion a year (4)

Additional products include home decor, remote control toys and video games.

"We build brand love for the business," Schroeder said.

Jovina Young, of Royal Oak, Michigan, director of charging services at Ford, purchased little Bronco trucks during the Christmas holiday for her daughters Tala, 9, and Kaya, 5.

“The absolute joy my girls have when driving around their Broncos makes me so happy.They love to drive the neighborhood and wave to everyone," their mom said.

Other children in the neighborhood drive their mini vehicles, too, said Jovina Young. "We always wave back and say hi as they go cruising.It always feels like summer when we see the kids driving around the block."

Ford, Jeep ball caps, T-shirts and other tie-ins generate more than $1 billion a year (5)

While two of the Detroit Three have plunged into this highly lucrative area of business, a spokesman for General Motors did not provide much detail, unlike its competitors.

"Licensing and merchandising does play a prominent role for GM and our brands, from our race fans at Chevrolet and Cadillac to luxury offerings for our buyers for Corvette and Cadillac," GM spokesman Sabin Blake said. "Each brand has a unique strategy and approach. While we do not share publicly revenue or sales information, we are pleased that consumers choose to buy our consumer goods to extend their brand experience."

While he suggested just going to gmcompanystore.com, a quick search of GM products included:

◾ A Cadillac sneaker for $64.95 at TrendyHeat.

◾ A Cadillac Hawaiian shirt starting at $25.99 from XMavericks.

◾ Cadillac distressed tees at Target for $24.99.

◾ Chevrolet tees at Kohl's for $12.99.

◾ Camaro ball caps for $20.99 at Top Flight Automotive.

◾ Corvette tees for $8.98 at Wal-Mart.

Toyota steps up strategy

As Ford and Stellantis are seeing strong revenue growth and pursuing partnerships very publicly, Toyota appears to be revising its strategy.

"Unfortunately, I can’t provide estimated brand licensing royalties for this year," said Tyler McBride, senior manager of brand, growth audiences and marketing for Toyota North America. "Toyota traditionally has not licensed its brand to merchandisers. This changed two years ago and now Toyota is actively looking to license the brand to merchandisers who can help bring the Toyota brand to life. Initial results have been very positive. For example, Original Grain launched a watch line last year featuring Toyota Racing Development, or TRD. Later this year, Toyota-branded products will appear on the shelves at Bass Pro Shops" featuring fishing-themed toys.

The TRD watches, sold in the company of timepieces made from whiskey barrels, guitar wood and railroad ties, sell for $269 to $649.

'Don't mess with me'

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Automakers aren't alone in seeing consumers gravitate toward branded clothing and other products.

"Licensing is taking off," said Cathy Cuckovich, associate marketing professor at Wayne State University's Mike Ilitch School of Business. "And it speaks to the strength of the brand. It's a way for companies to build a connection."

Ford, Jeep ball caps, T-shirts and other tie-ins generate more than $1 billion a year (6)

To Marcus Collins, marketing professor at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business, who wrote "For the Culture: The Power Behind What We Buy, What We Do, and Who We Want To Be," the growing affinity for branded goods says something about society – especially when people are paying so much money to wear the names of products. Past research has indicated that buyers of Ford products wanted to make statements like "I'm formidable" and "Don't mess with me" and "I'm badass."

Brands such as the F-150 truck, Mustang, Bronco, Jeep and Ram have an ascribed identity, Collins said. "This is about who you are, once a brand becomes an identity mark."

ContactPhoebe Wall Howard:313-618-1034orphoward@freepress.com. Follow her on X, formerly known as Twitter@phoebesaid. Read more onFordand sign up for ourautos newsletter.

Ford, Jeep ball caps, T-shirts and other tie-ins generate more than $1 billion a year (2024)
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