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.

Signs of Success

Have you noticed how the true sign of success in the toy car industry is how quickly other companies copy the style of successful products? The best example of this was the response to the introduction of Hot Wheels in 1968. In just a few short years everyone added speed wheels, hot cars and flashy paint to their lines. Some like Topper's Johnny Lightning and Marx simply produced variations of Hot Wheel models. The story today may be less dramatic but the herd mentality is still strong within the world of toy cars.

Toy car companies can be placed into common groups that share the quality, price, style or theme of their lines. Here are some of the connections.

Siku and the new Norev
For some 30 years, Siku has continued to produce solid models of high quality and realistic appearance. In the past year, Norev has been moving back into the small-scale diecast market. The new Norev models have the same solid feel and attention to detail shown by Siku. Norev models also are in scales a bit larger than 1:64 (around 1:55) and offer realistic colors. Norev seems to be focusing on retail sales through European car dealerships, something Siku has not done. Many Siku and these new Norev models sell for 2-3 Euros each. Corgi has also been moving back into small-scale diecast and seems to be offering new castings that are the same size and quality as the Siku and Norev models.

Matchbox, Motor Max, Welly, Real Toy and Maisto
With Matchbox now a shadow of its former self, others are moving in to take a piece of their market. Welly and Motor Max have been turning out realistic models in about 1:60 scale for the last several years. The inexpensive plastic-based castings are quite well done and remind many of Matchbox products prior to the Mattel take-over. Real Toy models now feature some of the best paint detail in this group. Maisto is also competing in this market but the lack of interiors for their models has hurt. Will Matchbox try to re-gain the lead in this market? Does Mattel even care?

Johnny Lightning, Racing Champions/Ertl, Hot Wheels (collector models), Tiger Wheels, Tomica Limited, Kyosho, Matchbox (premier models), Revell and smaller 'boutique' producers
Johnny Lightning created the 'premium' diecast market segment and it is becoming very crowded now. This has been great news for the collector as this segment is providing some of the best diecast models ever produced. Usually priced at $3-5 each although some are as high as $15, these models are very realistic and often have opening features, rubber tires and metal bases. Scales are usually in the 1:60-1:64 range. For the past 10 years, this has been the fastest growing segment of the small-scale market. Small companies like Kyosho, XConcepts, Cooee and others are offering a limited selection. Johnny Lightning is still the leader in this market segment.

Hongwell, Yat Ming and Kintoys
When Hongwell began to produce 1:72 scale diecast models with amazing detail, many wondered if they would be successful. Kintoys/Kinsmart also began to offer models in this scale and now Yat Ming has joined in offering these smaller-scale castings. The quality of these models is very high while prices are quite reasonable. Distribution is limited at present with few of these models offered through major retailers. The Schuco name has been revived and Hongwell castings are offered under this label.

Muscle Machines, Jada and Hot Wheels
Muscle Machines was the first to offer a complete line of diecast models in cartoonish proportions. The concept was not new as Matchbox and Hot Wheels had over the years produced individual models along these lines. Jada models are more realistic but still have 'over-the-top' styling cues. The 2003 Hot Wheels line seems intent on competing in this field, both with their regular line and a new tuner series. Many of these models are larger scale with wide tires. Muscle machines and Jada also offer larger scale (approx. 1:55) tuner models.

Minichamps and AUTOart
Produced in strict 1:64 scale, Minichamps was one of the first to offer 1:43 scale quality in small-scale castings. High prices and limited availability reduced access to these fine models. AUTOart, like Paul's Model Art, the producer of Minichamps, began with a focus in 1:18 and 1:43 scale. Their current 1:64 scale line is mostly of contemporary cars. Prices are much lower than Minichamps. These models are not toy-like and do not have speed-wheels.

The small-scale market certainly has variety. Everything from 1:55 to 1:72 scale is available with hundreds of new castings each year. Some companies like Tomica and Guisval have changed little over the years. Others like Majorette may be entering a different phase under new ownership. Curiously, Hot Wheels regular line seems to be the one market no one wants to copy or compete with. Sometimes it's better to just stay away from an 800 pound gorilla.

Share your thoughts on this topic with me and you may see them in the next issue. Send to: doug@breithaupts.com.