Between Transformers Robots in Disguise and Transformers Armada, Hasbro lost a number of fans: those who admired the technical sophistication of the Takara-designed toys. Takara, which was primarily responsible for the still-popular pre-movie Transformers toys, did an impressive job with the RiD toys (called "Transformers Car Robots" in Japan), using real vehicles which changed into detailed and highly posable robots.
After Robots in Disguise, Hasbro co-designed the Armada toys with Takara to appeal to a more juvenile audience. These had more in common with post-movie Transformers than the pre-movie Takara designs: the toys were simpler to transform, less posable as robots, and bore only a passing resemblance to any vehicles you'd see in the real world.
So, after the Armada line had been on the shelves for about a year, Takara and Hasbro introduced a new line of toys that had the same goals as the Car Robots/RiD toys. Takara called these toys "Binaltech", while Hasbro called them Alternators.
The literature by Takara gives this background: in 2003, the Autobots and Decepticons have left Earth, leaving our planet without its last line of defense. Earth initiates the Binal-Tech Project, creating Transformers from human vehicles using the personalities of damaged Autobots left behind.
The Binaltech/Alternators toys are introduced one at a time, each one in a box instead of a blister pack and with no annoying twistie-ties holding the toy down, making it easier to re-use the package after it's been opened. The toys are all modeled on real vehicles -- or in some cases, a single racing vehicle -- and each one is named for and designed to resemble a popular "Generation One" Autobot. Hasbro plans to release Decepticon Alternators as well, each one based on a previous Alternators Autobot with new colors and some remolding.
The key word for the Alternators toys is "detail." Each one features rubber tires, superb detailing (down to tilt steering wheels and front wheels that steer together), and highly posable robot modes. They're larger than most other Transformers toys, too, each vehicle built at 1:24 scale. The significant difference between Binaltech and Alternators is that the Binaltech toys feature die-cast metal parts (which some fans love because of the weight, and others dislike because the paint flakes off) which Hasbro replaced with plastic in the Alternators versions.
For legal reasons, certain European auto makers don't allow their cars to be reproduced as fighting-oriented toys anymore. So most of the cars in the Alternators lineup are American or Japanese, which is disappointing if you were hoping to see Sideswipe recreated as a Lamborghini instead of a Dodge Viper.
In addition to the toys in the following list, Takara also produced an updated version of Optimus Prime (named Convoy in Japan) for the Transformers' twentieth anniversary, called "Masterpiece Convoy" in Japan and "20th Anniversary Optimus Prime" overseas. This toy includes only the red truck cab easily recognized as G1 Optimus Prime (the trailer is included only as a cardboard accessory), but remodeled and re-engineered with the high level of detail shared by the Binaltech/Alternators toys. Both the truck and robot modes are highly detailed and designed to closely resemble the sleeker, more human-shaped Optimus Prime seen in the Transformers cartoons.
Transformers: Alternators toys (current list, sorted by date)
- Smokescreen* (Jan. 2004) - blue 2003 Subaru Impreza WRC (Subaru Impreza WRX STi)
- Sideswipe (Feb. 2004) - red Dodge Viper SRT-10 convertible
- Autobot Hound (July 2004) - dark green Jeep Wrangler
- Silverstreak (G1:Bluestreak) (July 2004) - silver Subaru Impreza WRX
- Autobot Tracks (Aug. 2004) - blue 2004 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 (Japanese Binaltech toy is yellow)
- Dead End (Aug. 2004) - black/red Dodge Viper SRT-10 Competition Coupe
- Meister (Jazz, Oct. 2004) - white Mazda RX-8 (also red in a limited edition)
- Swindle (Nov. 2004) - yellow 2005 Jeep Wrangler custom
- Grimlock (Dec. 2004) - grey 2005 Ford Mustang GT
- Windcharger (Jan. 2004) - red 2005 Honda S2000 convertible, with removable ragtop
- Battle Ravage (Feb. 2005) - black 2005 Chevrolet Corvette C5 convertible
- Shockblast (G1:Shockwave) (Mar. 2005) - dark blue 2005 Mazda RX-8 Mazdaspeed Version
- Wheeljack (Apr. 2005) - white/blue 2005 Ford Mustang GT
- Decepticharge (G1:Drag Strip) (May 2005?) - yellow/black 2005 Honda S2000
- Swerve (June 2005?) - red Chevrolet Corvette Z06
- Prowl (July 2005?) - white/black 2005 Acura RSX police car
- Autobot Skids (December 2005) - dark blue 2005 Scion xB
- Sunstreaker (December 2005) - yellow/black 2005 Dodge Viper SRT-10 Competition Coupe
- Rollbar (April 2006) - orange 2004 Jeep Wrangler custom
- Ricochet (April 2006) - black/gold 2004 Subaru Impreza WRX
- Optimus Prime (April 2006) - red 2005 Dodge Ram SRT-10 pickup truck
- Mirage (May 2006) - blue/white Ford GT40 sports car
- Nemesis Prime (May 2006) - black Dodge Ram SRT-10 pickup truck
* Smokescreen will be re-released by Takara as the seventh Binaltech toy as the 2004 Subaru Impreza WRX in addition to the earlier 2003 release. It's unknown at this time if Hasbro will sell the '04 Smokescreen in the US as well.