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Real or toy, car designs are aligned

The process for designing toy cars can be quite similar to real cars.

You’ve probably seen pictures of designers working on new vehicles: sketching outlines, taking measurements and working on prototypes. The process isn’t much different when the car is only a fraction as big.

“It’s definitely a lot of work, and you want to make them interesting and unique,” says Eric Tscherne, a former designer for Hot Wheels toys.

“You’re dealing with a little bit of material. We push those boundaries to keep it fresh and new.”

As with most real-car designs, the first step “is to get the idea out of your brain, on a notebook or a piece of paper,” Tscherne says.

“Those first little ‘napkin sketches’ have most of the information. From there, you draw a nicer drawing or use 3-D computer software to realize it.

“You design it to meet a cost or a specification. If you’re integrating technology, if you have to integrate a battery or a switch, it will define the size.”

Depending on the toy, the design then moves to a computerized machine that builds a prototype, or to a model builder who produces a clay model. This is cast into material to create a tooling model, which in turn is cut into steel to produce the molds for the toys.

A regular 1⁄64th Hot Wheels can take six to eight months from initial sketch to finished product, while a more complex toy can take two years or more. Designers must consider the stores as well, Tscherne says.

“I’ve got a shelf at Wal-Mart that’s 18 inches high, so my box can be 17-1⁄2 inches. The more you design toys, you realize there are parameters that you never thought you’d be working with. The retailer isn’t going to buy special shelves to stock your product.”

Making a real car into a toy requires the automaker’s approval, which can take a long time; high-end companies like Ferrari are very particular and will send a toy back several times for minor tweaks.

Tscherne preferred designing vehicles from his imagination: “The only person you have to impress is your own boss.”

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