There was a time when collecting was essential to survival. Today, fun comes first, because in bringing order to the world, the collector rewards himself into the bargain. Model cars continue to be a collector’s classic. Here, a man can still be a man.
Collecting is the alternative to the throw-away society, where everything that is produced is meant to be removed from circulation as quickly as possible. Collecting creates continuity, long-lasting relationships and “historical testimony”, whereby it is irrelevant which object of desire is being collected. You can collect just about anything, as shown recently at the Christie’s New York Rockefeller estate auction in May 2018. The variety coming under the hammer ranged from classical modernist paintings to Meissner porcelain right up to a 19th century horse-drawn carriage(!). “The collector”, says Oliver Kaschel of Herpa Miniaturmodelle, “invokes the good old days, a time that is tangible, reliable and manageable, whereas the future is the exact opposite.”
Between rapture and ratio
In a post-factual world where everything appears to revolve around viewpoint, but no longer objectivity, the collector brings some order to the chaos and complexity of the present – at least a little and limited to the private realm. Collecting means minute observation, comparison, differentiation, evaluation. It takes knowledge to discover “little treasures” just ahead of the competition – case in point, digital marketplace eBay. The collector makes judgments based on facts, figures and data. After all, collecting is a communicative act. Collectors are curious; they exchange objects and engage in exchanges with likeminded individuals. It is not necessarily what they have that matters to them; rather, they are motivated by what they do not have. “I have three obsessions: traveling, smoking and collecting,” said the great enlightener, Sigmund Freud. Charles Darwin saw things in just that way. The man collected beetles. In the world of passion, only the act of collecting counts. That has not changed to this day.
Germans are among the most enthusiastic collectors on the international stage. There is barely another country in recent decades that has erected so many museums. That also might explain why the country was able to cultivate as many model car producers as it has over the years. In any case, the passion for collecting appears to have been deeply engraved in the collective German unconscious. In the July 2014 study from the Steinbeiss-Hochschule Berlin school of management and innovation, “Collecting: in the area of conflict between passion and capital investment; executive summary”, the authors came to the conclusion that “more than one-third of Germans over the age of 18 currently collect.” 26% collect for the value growth; the rest for fun or because the items are “nice”. Although, as the authors write, the ravages of time are taking their toll on classic collectors’ areas, “classic collector’s items such as coins and model cars are still collected.” After all, toys count amongst the top collectors’ areas of people between the ages of 18 to 24, landing in 4th place.
Change in values afflicts the car
“The car is no longer the golden calf for digital natives,” says Peter Brunner, Schuco. “Often they don’t even bother getting their driving licence.” He is not alone in this opinion. The study produced in mid-June 2018 by management consultancy Bain & Company, “New urban mobility: The change is now,” concludes that 17 to 34 per cent of car owners are ready to dispense with owning their own vehicle. The study posits that drivers are switching increasingly to car sharing or individualised rides (ride hailing). And that means: If car ownership used to be a status symbol, the change in values has now completely infiltrated the younger generation. You are no longer defined by the size of your engine, but by how you deal with mobility offers.
It is not so that miniature cars are no longer a draw. Anyone who brings the right product at the right time can’t go wrong.
Oliver Kaschel, Herpa
So, is the car bound for extinction and, if so, how does this affect miniature car manufacturers? Kaschel is convinced that even if the golden years seem to be over, there is a future for the “typical men’s hobby”, despite the wealth of options. But for him, too, the days are bygone of collectors gathering up all items of a single brand. Manufacturers must occupy niches, create new areas (just as years ago with agricultural models), turn to small-batch production or seek out reasonably-priced manufacturing alternatives.
One example is Minichamps, manufacturer of high-grade, pressure-die casting vehicle models. The website of the company, founded in 1990 as Paul’s Model Art, lists 1,224 models fabricated from resin; compared to 10,113 models from zinc-die casting– also an indication of market change and adjustment. “The advantage of resin”, says Karl Thomas Schmadalla of Chinese manufacturer AutoArt, “is that you can quickly execute small editions of models, but I believe that they do not represent an alternative for dyed-in-the-wool collectors.” AutoArt relies on composite models, joining the strengths of metal to the potential of plastic.
There is consensus across the industry that per-model quantities are becoming smaller, and that in the presence of cut-throat competition what matters more than ever is “bringing the right model at the right time in the right quantity to market,” according to Hartung, because actual mega trends are missing. “As we see it, there are no current trends in miniature cars,” believes Schmadalla, “but there is a tendency to concentrate on specific collection areas.” If so, then perhaps the change in purchasing behaviour indicates an overarching trend. At AutoArt, it is believed that around 70 per cent of revenue is earned on the Internet; at Schuco, the estimate is over 50 per cent. “Our three largest customers,” says Peter Brunner, “are internet shippers.” This development appears consistent. Every year, the industry presents between 4,000 and 5,000 innovations in Nuremberg, including colour and printing variants.
In China, classics or youngtimers barely play a role. What attracts attention is what is being driven on the streets. There, very young people also collect.
Karl Thomas Schmadalla, AutoArt
But it is perhaps precisely this variety that collectors want, because individualisation does not take a break. In any case, there is no resignation coming from the manufacturers. To the contrary, they are relying on export and the slowly developing Chinese market: here, models are in demand that currently navigate the streets of Beijing and Shanghai. There is still a scene in Germany for the hobby. “It is not so that only older people collect. In observing the to-and-fro on the related forums, one sees that 35-year-olds are taking an interest in miniature cars as well”, says Karl Thomas Schmadalla, and it sounds as if the argument is made by model railroaders who depend on returnees. Perhaps manufacturers have yet another idea up their sleeves so that in future as well, the classic standards of 1:12, 1:18, 1:43 or 1:87 will be collected. “I believe,” says Peter Brunner, “98.5% of collectors are men, but when is the man over 40 praised? He praises and fulfils himself through childhood dreams of model cars.”