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By Thomas Wheeler

It's a terrible thing for someone of the male gender to admit, but my expertise with cars is extremely limited. I know how to drive, fuel, and wash a car, and check some of the fluids under the hood, but that's about it. I don't understand many of the mechanical principles of an automobile, and I can't even fix or change a flat tire. Similarly, I know virtually nothing about makes and models of cars.

Having said that, some makes and models tend to be more obvious and distinctive than others, so that even someone like me can spot them. A Hummer is a pretty obvious and distinctive car. So is a VW Beetle, either old or new. A Ford PT Cruiser tends to be rather obvious, as well.

And then there's the Scions. Manufactured by Toyota, although their logo doesn't appear on the vehicle, these cars started turning up a little over a year ago, as I recall. I first saw one on display in Tucson Mall, and my first reaction, as I suspect it might well have been the reaction of quite a few people, was "What the heck is that?!"

Regardless of the model, and I think there's only three of them at the moment, Scions are rather unusual looking cars. They are not sleek. They are not sporty. Frankly, they look like cracker boxes on wheels. They seem to have a great many right angles to their appearance. If Toyota was aiming for something different-looking in their design for their Scion offshoot, they certainly succeeded.

How the heck one of these things ended up as a Transformers Alternator I'll never know, but one of them has. And it's probably worth noting that the Transformers Alternators line has been around, as a concept, just a little bit longer than the Scions themselves, I believe. There's not that much to be made of that observation, but I think it's sort of interesting.

The specific Scion model used for the Transformers Alternators line is the XB. That's the other thing about Scions. They don't have the most imaginative model names in the world. They tend to sound like an attachment for a computer. "Yeah, I just got a new XB for my PC..." We're becoming a society of abbreviations, people.

The Scion XB, an Autobot named SKIDS, looks -- to me, anyway -- like a rather boxy van, as much as anything. And I believe it is the first van-like vehicle in the Alternators line. Whether it is for this reason, or the rather odd design of the vehicle itself regardless of what type of vehicle it is, the transformation isn't one of the easier ones. Granted that the Alternators rank as the most complex Transformers around these days. And as I have said with every other Alternators review I've ever done, it can't be an easy thing to craft an accurate, satisfactory-to-the-car-company, 1:24 scale model of a real-life vehicle, give it moving parts, and then still have the toy transform into a well-articulated and decently recognizable version of an established Generation One Transformers robot, which Skids definitely is. Indeed, his original version was part of those re-released in the Toys "R" Us exclusive Commemorative line a while back.

That having been said, I suspect that Skids presented more challenges than Takara was used to. Apart from the -- distinctive (!) design of the vehicle itself, there's the fact that this is a four-door van -- and all four doors open. That can't have been easy, and again, I believe this is the first four-door vehicle in the line.

Then, as I said, there's the transformation. And sometimes, the two- dimensional illustrations included as the instructions just aren't as good a guide as they should be. Written instructions would be a big help. And they certainly would have been here. This is one of the more peculiar and challenging Transformers.

And, mildly surprising and just a bit troubling to me -- Skids comes up a bit short, heightwise. Now, I know that Transformers have a wide range of sizes, from Mini-Cons to the likes of Unicron and Fortress Maximus. But one of the things I have appreciated about the Alternators is that they've all been pretty much the same height, in robot form, roughly 7-1/2 inches. The only reason Skids comes up close to this height is because of a huge back piece. His head, which is noticably smaller than the average Alternator, perches at about the 6-3/4" mark. Minimal, perhaps, but noticable especially when compared to the consistency of the other Alternators.

One sort of gets the impression that Skids/Scion was a Transformer that gave Takara absolute fits in the design phase. And let me add one comment -- if they ever manage to turn out Bumblebee as some form of VW, they'd better make sure he comes up short, too, or Skids is going to really look silly standing next to the other Alternators.

Although personality profiles aren't really included with the Alternators, the new package design does at least include a personal quote from the character, and in Skids' case, it reads, "Speed is immaterial when you've got intelligence. And killer rims." Apparently Skids is taking a certain flamboyance into consideration. His original Generation One form was a nondescript but fairly sporty dark blue van, with a red stripe along the sides. The Scion XB is far less sporty, but he's still dark blue, and in place of the original red stripe, he's had orange and red flames painted across his sides.

For what it's worth, his original Generation One profile, which describes him as an "Autobot Theoretician", reads as follows: "A daydreamer... often bumps into things at 60 mph while pondering Earth life instead of a Decepticon attack. Considers Earth one vast lab for his research. His findings are often invaluable to fellow Autobots. Enormous memory storage capacity. Carries a liquid nitrogen rifle with 600 foot range. Twin electron blaster of 20,000 volts can short-circuit almost anything. At 60 mph can stop within 25 feet. Not very fast... often in danger due to daydreaming."

Not really sure how much of the technical specifics carry over into his new form, but I suspect at least his personality does. There's nothing in here about the original Skids' relative height compared to his fellow Autobots.

If I sound in any way like I'm complaining about Skids, I'm not. Really, the Transformers Alternators as a whole are, in my opinion, the single most impressive action figure line generally available out there right now. And it seems that distribution has been improved a bit. I readily found Skids and his assortment-mates -- Prowl, Sunstreaker, and the reissued Tracks -- at both Wal-Marts and Targets in good quantity right after Christmas. Hopefully this is the start of a trend.

I suspect any misgivings I might have about Skids relate to the figure's height in robot form, and the fact that these Scions are just such odd- looking vehicles to me. Bottom line, Skids is a very worthwhile entry into the Transformers Alternators line, and he most certainly has my highest recommendation!