2005 - What a year!
If I had to describe 2005, I think I would use the analogy of a roller-coaster ride. We had some fantastic models and we had some VERY bad ones. Many collectors had some great expectations for the year, but not all of them were fulfilled. I feel as if 2005 was some sort of water divider for the hobby. I think that in the future, when we look back, we will see a distinct difference between the hobby before 2005 and after. We’ve seen some major brands change company policies this year, and that combined with world economy, unpredictable as it is, will have some profound effects in the hobby as we know it.
Some well known brands have jacked-up their prices, because labor costs in China have been tremendously going up these last years. Besides, raw materials, like the metals that go in the alloy used to make our little models are also more expensive nowadays. Add all that up and we collectors will end up paying more for each model that we buy from now on. This will be especially noticeable with the premium brands, since their models are more expensive per unit than the models from budget brands that are made by the thousand. Budget brands will obviously have to raise their prices too, but the increment won’t be so noticeable.
These price increases, though necessary, obviously are not what we collectors want. Since we live in a global village, even diecasts cars are affected by what happens in the economy of many countries. And unhappily, there’s nothing we can do about it. The problem is that with higher prices fewer can afford the hobby. Budget brands so far seem to be immune to this, but I think it’s a matter of time before the whole process catches up with them. And with higher prices for budget models, less people will get into the hobby.
Though economy and finances were an important factor in the hobby this year, maybe what was more meaningful were the different roads that some established brands decided to trail. Some of these new roads were welcomed and even expected, but some made us collectors think about the future of the hobby. I guess the best way to talk about all this would be saying a few words about each brand, in alphabetical order:
Without a doubt, Autoart has become one of the most important brands in the hobby, because of their extremely diverse model line and the detail level that they are able to cram into a 1:18 car. Autoart made a reputation of making the models we collectors want, with the detail level we deserve and for a price that we can afford. Can it get better then that? I can count no more then two or three brands that can also do this, but NONE with the diversity of models that Autoart offers. The brand may not have the most glamorous models ever made in 1:18, but 7 or 8 out of 10 collectors would probably say that Autoart was their favorite brand. And that was how it was until 2005…
In the end of 2004 there was supposedly a change in the upper management of the brand, and all of a sudden the brand “was supposed to make money” (what were they doing for the last 5 years?). The good news was that some very important models were announced, and basically the to-be-released list had something for everybody. Then came the bad news.
The 1st blow to us collectors came in the form of the so-called “Motorsports Line”. This line, launched in 2004, consists of sealed models, i.e., curbside models that don’t have opening trunks, doors or engine bays. The line started with a Le Mans winner and some cars from the JGTC, that so far no other brand had ever offered. Why sealed? Because this way Autoart would be able to offer some very up-to-date cars and release them now, since being sealed there would be no time wasted with engineering of the oh-so-many parts that a normal car demands. Plus, being sealed it would be less expensive then the normal “openable” models. The first cars in the line were cheaper then the normal models, but just some 20%. These cars were very popular, and just flew out of the shelves in stores around the world.
A very clear message was sent to upper management: curbsides sell. In 2005 we had a few more models released as Motorsports cars, and currently a whole bunch of cars announced for the near future, from Corvettes C6-R to BMW M3 GTR, will all come out as curbsides. And it gets better: they will come out at the same price as normal cars. Is anyone thinking about collecting 1:43s yet?
But that’s not all. I can try to understand that the brand needs to make more money, so they will try to interest other types of collectors. Fine by me. I truly believe there are collectors that don’t think much about being able to see the engine in a 1:18 diecast. Ok, that’s understandable. But then comes the second problem.
The second big problem with Autoart in 2005 was quality control. In the first paragraph, I wrote that the brand was famous for their detail level. Not so anymore. We had a MUCH anticipated Porsche GT3 R that ran in Le Mans coming out with decals for fog lights. Decals! Many Porsche GT3 racers were released, but not one did the brand make in the right R or RS model. We had a Mercedes (190E Evo II) come out with “Merceds” written in the engine block. We had a Dealer Edition of the Mercedes S Class come with one of the cheapest interiors I ever seen in premium model–land. And the list goes on.
I write all this heavy-hearted, because I was one of those collectors that had Autoart as the BEST brand out there. They may be catering to a new type of collector, but what about us die hard ones that spoke so highly of the brand in the past? Only the future will tell if they’re not aiming at their own foot here.
Previously known for their premium models in 1:43, the brand debuted in the 1:18 world with the Ferrari Enzo. And what a splash they made! The Enzo is a US$ 200,00+ model, with all the bells and whistles you expect in a premium model. Maybe because it was their first model or maybe because the brand hasn’t yet made a reputation among 1:18 collectors, the Enzo was received with only a warm feeling, and some say that despite it being a great model, it’s not worth the price charged. So far there hasn’t been any rumors about new releases.