Model Car Market Stays Stable Despite Auto Industry Downturn | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 02.11.2008
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Model Car Market Stays Stable Despite Auto Industry Downturn

Though the actual car industry may be suffering a sharp decline in sales, the model car industry appears to be unaffected by the downturn. Collectors are anxiously awaiting new products.

Photo of miniature semi-truck

Miniatures of many vehicles remain in demand

While car manufacturers like Mercedes, BMW, Porsche and Opel are struggling to cope with an economic downturn, the manufacture of their models in miniature seems to be as popular as ever.

In order to keep up with developments in design, model car manufacturers maintain close ties with car makers.

"The model car makers in principle manufacture their products based on the same data that is used to assemble body panels and axles," said Daniel Stiegler, a spokesman for the model car manufacturer Herpa.

Built from manufacturers' blueprints

Carmakers themselves have a keen interest in seeing a model car of their new vehicle on the shelf and normally hand over secret construction plans under strict conditions.

The model car manufacturers also tend to be allowed to take a closer look at the prototypes early in the development process.

Building models of vintage and classic cars, however, is a bit more difficult.

"Research of the original documentation is difficult," said Udo Plichta, a developer at Schuco. "Hundreds of photographs have to be taken and calculated down to the model size."

Blue convertible Eos car pictured on the floor of an auto show

A model of the VW Eos contains just 20 parts

In order to simplify the production process, Schuco is now using a mobile laser scanner that compiles a 3D image of the vehicle.

Painstaking process

Once all the data is ready, it is scaled down to model size with the respective parts. A model car of the VW Eos in a 1/87 scale, for example, consists of 20 parts. But the fire engine Schlingmann HLF 20/16, which Revell offers as a model kit with a 1/24 scale, has exactly 257 parts.

It takes Revell about a year to measure and to develop the model kit. But at least the manufacturer does not need to worry about assembly, which is most of the fun.

Another model car maker, Wiking & Co., has a much more complicated production process.

Fluid plastic heated to a temperature of more than 200 degrees Celsius is pressed between two metal parts cut down exactly to one hundredth of a millimeter, according to Wiking manager, Andreas Kroeber. The parts coming out of the machine are painted individually while the alloys and front grill are covered with metal foil. Race car models bear the same sponsor stickers as the real thing.

In a painstaking procedure workers use a magnifying glass and tweezers to assemble the miniature models. Koerber explains that eight millimeter wheels are stuck to an axle as thick as a paper clip.

Tiny seats are clipped into the interior along the minuscule headlights, windshields, blinker lights and blue warning lights made from transparent plastic. At last, much like on a real production line in a car factory, the chassis and body are symbolically "married."

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