Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Hot Wheels - Playing in the Matchbox Sandbox

I guess the title could be stated as, "Hot Wheels - Bullying their Way into the Matchbox Sandbox." But I digress. Let me describe a time not so long ago, where a parent and a child could go into pretty much any department or toy store on the planet and buy themselves a nice Matchbox, usually in a nice collector box. It is interesting to point out that presently some of those boxes are worth way more than the cars that once occupied them.

As Lesney ran into financial trouble for a wide range of reasons, the company changed hands a few times with Universal and then Tyco before finally arriving at is final destination. What's that you say with final destination? Well, Mattel did not necessarily acquire Tyco for Matchbox. They needed the logistical routes and access to markets that Matchbox Owners had carved out for many years. Mattel at the time also picked up the Sesame Street, View-Master and Magnadoodle toy brands as well the RC cars that Tyco had.

During the 1970s - 1990s, I used to travel to Europe at least every other year and would always be excited to hunt and purchase Rest of World (ROW) only Matchbox 1-75 series. I could find Matchbox everywhere I looked as they seemed to have the market. By the 2000s, Hot Wheels had pretty much replaced Matchbox everywhere...this had to be on purpose.

I say final destination, because I do not believe Mattel will ever let the brand change owners again...we are stuck with Mattel's vision for the brand whether we like it or not, whether it survives or not. Mattel say they will always support the brand, but we have seen over the years that Mattel has continued to decrease investment in the brand by offering LESS:
  • licensed vehicles
  • licensed liveries (i.e. Coca Cola)
  • opening features
  • suspension
  • tow hooks
  • tempo decoration hits (either front and rear lights, but no side or roof) 
  • elimination of popular lines (SuperKings, Matchbox Collectibles, Convoys)
  • elimination of premium lines (like Premieres, NSF, Lesney Editions etc)
  • advertising (Commercials, Event Sponsoring, Cartoons)
  • Posters and catalogs
  • Toy Shows (now only sponsor one US and one Europe with Hot Wheel Nationals)
  • Website Updates (actually they do nothing with it)
  • Core Matchbox Personnel (a revolving door in the marketing dept has caused detrimental damage to the brand as newcomers have different visions and lack of history and knowledge on how to market the brand)

Now some of this is due to the traditional toy car market shrinking and affecting sales. But for a while in the mid 2000s, Matchbox was doing pretty well which started with re-introducing the new Superfast Line (NSF). Even the CEO at the time made a video for our viewing pleasure at that year's Matchbox Gathering Show in New Mexico praising the brand. But for whatever reasons, what was once core Matchbox territory was equally available for the Hot Wheels team to do as well. The best recent example is this model released as a Hot Wheels but should have been given to Matchbox...or at least let Matchbox have a crack at it too:

2014 Hot Wheels First Edition Fiat 500

Now...a few years ago, a fellow collector discovered a firm that was hired by Mattel to come up with illustrations for 'another' re-branding of Matchbox and look at some of the Matchbox artwork examples found on that page:

A Fiat 500 would have been a sure Matchbox as it historically represents what Matchbox was known for: Real Action Adventure. Hot Wheels was to represent fantasy and racing themes. But I guess Hot Wheels has seen that these types of models sell well in the blue blister as well so the two brands seem to be flipping into each other or at least playing in each others sandbox. Matchbox is getting more and more non-licensed castings with made up liveries where Hot Wheels is getting many more 'real' castings. Don't get me wrong, Brother blue makes up my second largest collection of 1:64 scale cars as they have always had some good stuff available...but Matchbox is what I collect and it has been difficult the last couple of years as models and quality start to decline.

So as the Matchbox brand continues its decent into plastic and lack of direction, we can only hope that sales figures will tell Mattel once again that they have it all wrong again and get back to the grass roots of Matchbox...real vehicles with real life branding and advertising. Mattel have hinted that 2015 will preview another change in direction but we will have to wait to see what this newest re-branding will bring.

In the meantime, I am adding pictures of Hot Wheel models that could easily have been Matchbox. Until next time, Blessings to all.


  1. Hi, I'm from HK and totally agree you points.
    I missed the MBX, especially those in the yrs while the MB 1-75 are really in 'boxes' and the Convoys, 'MotorCity' dioramas, as well as some SuperKings (The Superkiing Peterbilt Police Tow Truck my dad bought me is still m favourite).
    MBXs 'disappeared' in HK market since mid-'90s and the new owner only introduce HWs since then. The young boys and girls don't know what MBX cars are....
    Luckily, in recent years, some toy shops import MBX cars on their own and Mattel also "introduced" MBX in a very limited number for hk market. At least I can see some on the shelves/hangers. However, this is not the case for Toysrus....who sells HWs and only a few MBX planes!
    I don't expect Mattel will make some changes for its plan/strategy over MBX (Just like its never-updating web site which is not user-friendly and attractive), however, hope they still keep the brand for those who love it!

  2. Hey...thx for your comments. It really is a big shame. At least in the USA we can still get the product unlike most of the world.


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  4. I'm from Malaysia and oh how I miss the 1-75 range,,,all real, all diec-ast

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  6. I guess the title could be stated as, "Hot Wheels - Bullying their Way into the Matchbox Sandbox." But I digress. Let me describe a time not so ...

  7. I started collecting with mostly blue cards and slowly have been replacing them with orange ones as I am all about the cars, details and realism (I don't care at all about chase pieces). As for Hot Wheels doing more and more realistic castings, yes I agree as well. I have both the Hot Wheels and Majorette white Fiat 500 castings and even I have to admit that Hot Wheels did a better job on this particular casting than Majorette. Yes, HW can do realistic castings when they want to (or try hard enough).