Volume VII, Number 3

O F F - T H E - S H E L F

The following editorial reflects the personal thoughts of Doug Breithaupt relating to our common hobby of miniature cars. It is intended to generate discussion
relating to 'Tales of Toy Cars'. Your letters are welcome and may be submitted via e-mail.

The 'Big Seven' and everyone else

How do we decide which toy car companies will become the most popular? This is a question much on the minds of product designers and marketing managers for all the diecast companies. While there are never simple answers to this question, there are some basic facts to consider.

Toy car companies fall into several major categories. The manufacturers with the largest following over the past 50 years are easy to spot. Simply look for the collector clubs.

Hot Wheels, Matchbox, Tomica, Siku, Johnny Lightning, Corgi and Majorette are the 'big seven' of diecast. All have active clubs that encourage collecting, publish value and variation guides and serve as a focus-point for information on new products as well as a reference center for product history. Even when the companies fall on hard times as Corgi and Matchbox have done on occasion, their following continues.

The second level companies may have occasional club activity but at least have a steady following for their products. Racing Champions/Ertl, Guisval, Norev, Impy Lone-Star, Playart, Schuco, Muscle Machines, Tootsietoy and Penny/Polistil. These companies may or may not be still in business. Some like Norev and Racing Champions may join the 'big seven' at some future point.

The third level companies are those that are either too new, too obscure or too basic and have a very limited following or have yet to develop a solid following among collectors. Realtoy, Yat Ming, Maisto, Motor Max, Welly, Summer, Pioneer, Road Champs, Jada, Revell, XConcepts, Aurora Cigar Box, Faller Hit Cars, Budgie, Muky, Buby, AMT Pups/Mego/Jet Wheels, Speedy, Mini Dinky, Mini-Lindy, Biante, Tiger Wheels, Golden Wheel, Kinsmart, Hongwell, Kyosho, Kingstar and many others fall into this category. Some of these are destined to remain at this level. Others like Realtoy, Welly, Biante or Kyosho are likely to rise in stature if they continue to produce quality products.

Members of the 'big seven' all have been producing toy cars for many years. Matchbox has passed the 50 year mark while Johnny Lightning is the young buck, just having passed the 10 year mark (although the original Topper cars are now over 30 years old). These seven companies are all active although Corgi has only recently re-entered the 1:64 scale market. All seven companies have produced an amazing variety of castings and millions of variations. The combined production of these seven companies could represent as much as 90 percent of total small-scale diecast toy car production.

Clearly, to be part of the big seven a company must offer a wide variety of products in a wide variety of markets. At the same time, companies like Tomica, Siku and Johnny Lightning have managed to achieve this status with more limited production and distribution. For these three companies, the consistent quality of their models, the variety and unique nature of their castings and a willingness to stay the course rather than scramble after every new fad, have been keys to their success.

If I was president of one of the second or third level toy car companies, I would look closely at the models presented by Johnny Lightning, Tomica or Siku. Norev, Realtoy, Welly and Racing Champions/Ertl are likely doing just that. If these companies can also offer something unique to their brand, it will certainly help their progress. Norev is offering just that with auto dealership tie-ins, rapid new model production and excellent realism. Realtoy has led the way in the quality of their paint and tampos on value-priced castings. Welly has combined unique model offerings with excellent realism while Racing Champions/Ertl has produced some of the most detailed small-scale castings in the industry.

It will be interesting to see which company is next to break into the 'big seven'. A sure sign is the establishment of collector clubs. If you want to help your favorite toy car company make the jump, perhaps you should think about forming just such a club.