DETROIT -- Patrick Mulligan has some of the best trained ears in the auto industry. When he hears a vehicle engine running, he can identify the car or truck much as birders can distinguish the calls of a robin from those of a cardinal.
"I know what a Mustang sounds like and what a Camaro sounds like," says Mulligan, associate director for product development in Ford Motor Co.'s licensing department. He was editor of Scale Auto magazine before coming to Ford.
So when Mulligan was evaluating a video game recently and heard a Land Rover diesel running while a Ford Explorer was displayed, he knew the sound was all wrong. Ford doesn't even sell the Explorer with a diesel. Ford asked the video game maker to correct the error.
When Ford authorizes an image, sound or design for use in a toy, model, T-shirt or video game, it's Mulligan's job to ensure the end product is true to the Ford brand.
It's all part of protecting the brand, says John Nens, Mulligan's boss and manager of Ford brand licensing.
"The biggest thing about licensing is that it builds the Ford brand," Nens says. "Ford has a reputation that's been built up for more than 103 years. Our No. 1 job in licensing is to protect the brand."
Ford is pushing to expand its licensing business. Sales of Ford-licensed merchandise brought in $1.5 billion at retail in 2011, Ford says. The company won't say how much it received in royalties from those sales, but the business is expanding.
Among automakers, Ford is third, behind No. 1 General Motors and No. 2 Ferrari, in sales of licensed merchandise, Nens says. There's plenty of room to grow the business. Of the merchandise Ford licenses, 80 percent is sold in North America.
"Our strategy is to grow internationally," Nens says. "We're trying to even those numbers out."
Ford has about 400 licensees globally. About 45 million Ford-branded items were sold in 2011, up from 40 million in 2008, Nens says.
"Ford sold 160,000 Mustangs last year. Mattel sold more than a million," Nens says, referring to Mattel's Hot Wheels model cars. "And video games are one of the fastest-growing areas we have. Eight Ford-brand vehicles are featured in the Need for Speed Most Wanted game."