Mr John Neff of the Autoblog is ranting against China's car advertisments that use cars transforming into robots and vice versa. His article's title is: "Chinese automakers copy everything else, why not the Transformers", read more here.
One should distinguish the Transformers toys and cartoons of Hasbro and the movie the Transformers made by Michael Bay, who got the permission of the right holder to adapt the toys and cartoons into a special effects movie, from the idea of transforming cars into robots and vice versa. This idea cannot be protected, only the expression of this idea can.
Now in the case of a car advertisement, what kind of intellectual property rights are possibly infringed?
Let's first watch the advertisment from China Lifan Car on YouTube, here.
The soundtrack might be copyrighted; and in this YouTube video one can see the mask of the Autobots, which is trademarked (I am not sure if this mask is part of the advertisement or whether it is added to the advertisement later); the skating robot looks very similar to the expression of the skating robot in the movie, this could be an infringement of copyright; if the designs of the robot in the advertisment is too similar in case the Transformers' robots designs are registered, it could be a design rights infringement. What do you think?
The Great Wall Motor Company also uses cars that can change into robots and back. However, knocking-off this idea in advertisments and passing-off (misappropriating the reputation), is not done only by Chinese car companies. See on YouTube a skating Citroën here, and a dancing Yugo here. To show that you can use the idea of transformation from a car into a robot in a creative way, without getting associations with the Transformers, watch Nissan's advertisement here.