Back in 2007, the engineers at Bugatti Automobiles S.A.S. in Molsheim, France noticed while hand-assembling the 1001-horsepower, 253-mph Veyron 16.4 supercar that its natural body materials of aluminum and carbon-fiber on their own blend into a unique and beguiling two-tone finish of highly contrasting light and dark hues. That fall, at the 2007 Frankfurt Motor Show, Bugatti pulled the sheet off its Veyron 16.4 Pur Sang, a special unpainted version of the Veyron with a body of highly polished aluminum and naked carbon-fiber. The Pur Sang, which is French for “pure blood,” was intended to embody the spirit of the original special-body Bugattis, such as the six 1929-1933 Type 41 Royales that were built, and the four 1936-1938 Type 57 SC Atlantic coupes that Bugatti produced and which, if sold today, would each bring tens of millions of dollars at auction. Bugatti built just five Veyron 16.4 Pur Sangs, with a price of around US$2 million.
In creating a 1:18-scale model of this very special Veyron, AUTOart has produced its own “pur sang” edition, a model that exquisitely embodies AUTOart’s pure dedication to accuracy in every detail. As with the real car, the AUTOart Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Pur Sang has a body of aluminum that is painstakingly hand polished to a mirror finish to contrast perfectly with the replica carbon-fiber center panels, thus producing the exact same stunning visual effect that Bugatti intended to create in 2007.
Compared to a conventional painted model, the process of making the 1:18-scale Veyron Pur Sang is slow, expensive, and time consuming. In order to accurately reproduce the Pur Sang’s exterior finish, AUTOart’s engineers switched from zinc alloy, which is the common user-friendly material for die-casting model car bodies, to actual aluminum, which is far more tricky to work with, as the company learned when it produced its first polished-aluminum model, the Ford GR-1 Shelby Concept Car.
For the Veyron Pur Sang, AUTOart rejected zinc because, though it can also be polished to a mirror finish, if left unpainted it will oxidize within days as humidity corrodes the metal surface. A clear coat can be applied to prevent this oxidation, but the clear coat appears as a heavy layer that alters the look of the finished body. A clear coat can also degrade over time in direct sunlight. Chome plating the zinc is another way some model producers replicate polished aluminum. But a chrome finish is too bright and doesn’t have the same surface depth or texture as actual polished aluminum.
The only choice for AUTOart was to again go with aluminum alloy, even though the raw material is more expensive and the aluminum, with a higher melting point than zinc, attacks the die-casting mold and shortens its life. A mold injected with molten aluminum may last for only 1/10 as many “shots,” or die-casting cycles, as one injected with zinc.
Once the Veyron Pur Sang’s body is cast in aluminum alloy, there is much work to do, almost all by trained manual labor. While a conventional zinc body only needs about 45 minutes of labor to trim and prepare for paint, more than three hours worth of labor is expended to trim, sand, and polish each Veyron Pur Sang body to its glossy finish. After all of this work, the contours of all of the bare panels, from the bumpers to the doors to the bonnet to the quarter-panels, must meet up and match each other in perfect continuity, just as they do on the real car. That is a difficult standard to achieve in mass model production, and thus the scrap rate is much higher with models cast in aluminum alloy. Up to 50 percent of the die-cast aluminum alloy bodies are rejected, scrapped, and recycled mainly due to over-polishing and minor blemishes introduced during polishing.
Factoring in ever-increasing labor and material costs in China, producing a die-cast aluminum model is about five to six times more expensive than producing a zinc model. However, the only authentic way to replicate Bugatti’s Pur Sang masterpiece is to use genuine aluminum alloy and to polish it to get the same look and texture as the real car. It is very costly and it takes a lot of extra effort, but this is how AUTOart makes its model cars. No other maker is doing the same because it is simply not a wise thing to do, commercially. But it is the right thing to do for collectors of fine scale models.
As with the real Veyron Pur Sang, the finish of the AUTOart 1:18-scale model requires some maintenance. Aluminum alloy is also subject to oxidation at very slow rate in dry and indoor condition and the surface will slowly turns dull after one or two years, though, as with tarnished silverware, it can easily be re-polished to make the model looks brand new again from time to time with any commercially available tarnish remover such as Brasso or Autosol, or any aluminum polishing cream such as 3M Marine Aluminum Restorer or Mothers Mag and Aluminum Polish. As you polish your model, you can be certain that somewhere, in some beautiful garage, somebody is doing the exact same thing to the body of a real Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Pur Sang.
Specification of the model:
– polishing aluminum parts : 148 minutes of trained manual labor
– trimming of all metal parts: 35 minutes of normal manual labor
– trimming and machine-cut opening of parts : 58 minutes of normal manual labor
– manual drilling of small holes : 34
– manual spray paint : 116 processes
– tampon printing : 47 hits
– number of components : 271 pieces
– hot stamping area : 12 spots
– development time : over two years
1968 Dodge Charger (Courtesy of jeffgarage)
This gallery contains 1 photo.
Porsche 935 model with garage snap-on toolkit.
The price of die cast model cars will become higher
Autoart die cast model was first launched in 1998. At that time, the basic labor cost in China was around $1.60US per day for a ten hour working day. The rate then, was almost double what it was a decade before. There were plenty of workers waiting at the front gates of every factories looking for work. These factories provided food and shelter for the workers. These workers came from far away provinces in central China to live and work in the factories for a minimum of one year and they would return home only once a year.
Provinces in central China are the most populous. Sichuan province alone has almost 100 million people. There were few developments before the mid 2000’s and the young people in the region were forced to look for jobs in the industrial zone around the coast lines. Many of them were female workers as young as 18 years of age, the legal age of employment, and had finished eight to ten years of education. They wanted to earn some money to help their families. Despite the low wages, they were able to save most of their income and were able to buy a small place to live in their hometown after working for a couple of years. Life was simple and the workers were happy just to work and willing to stay in the factory year after year.
Until early 2000’s, an average 1:18 scale Autoart models with 100 ~ 120 components would retail for around $50US and mass market toy grade model cars would retail at only $19.99US. The manufacturers, producers, importers, and retailers were all able to make their fair share of profits and the collectors were very active in collecting the models.
Today, a regular Autoart 1:18 scale model retails for around $150US. The price has increased as much as three times over the course of 12 years but the people involved in the manufacturing and marketing of the products are not getting their fair share of the profit margin. Many factories are now losing money and the main reason for this is that the labor cost has gone up almost ten times when calculated in US dollar. The basic worker still earns $1.60US but it is now an hourly rate instead of daily rate. Despite the higher wages, the workers are not happy with their jobs and always demand a higher pay. They would quit as soon as another factory offers a higher pay. Inflation in China has become a major issue in recent years. Housing prices have gone up ten or even twenty times and workers can no longer buy a small place to live after working for a few years. On the other hand, the standard of living has improved greatly over the last decade. Televisions, smart phones and computers have become common household items in average families. There are 500 million internet users and 600 millions mobile phone accounts in China, three times more than the USA. There are also more Chinese learning English than the whole America. People in China are quickly learning what the desirable things in the world are and they are no longer happy with a life that consist of having a shelter over your head and food on the table to feed the family. There are more than 18 millions new cars filling the road of China every year, 50% more than America, every Chinese wants a car instead of paddling a bicycle.
The cost of manufacturing a high quality 1:18 scale model has gone up tremendously due in big part to the cost of labor. The retail prices may have tripled in the past decade but the people involved in the making and marketing of the products are much worst off.
The mark up factor from production cost all the way to the final retail price is largely depended on the upfront investment and the estimated selling quantity. For example, designer brand clothes itself may cost only $10US to produce, but the marketing cost such as fashion show, advertising, designing fee and packaging may cost tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. If the clothes are sold in hundreds of pieces, the retail price will have to be $100US or over in order to breakeven the investment. If it is mass-market clothing selling in tens of thousands of pieces, under the same production cost of the $10US, the retail price can be as low as only $30US. For a die cast model car, the main upfront investment is the tooling cost (moulds). The licensing fee can also represent a large sum of money for some hot subjects and upfront payment is to be paid to the car makers regardless if the model is selling or not. The tooling cost for a 1:18 scale model is an investment of six figure amounts, if the selling quantity is in tens or hundreds of thousands, then the amortization of the tooling fee is only one or two dollars for each model. But if the selling quantity is only in few thousands of pieces, then the amortization of the tooling is tens of dollars for each model. The same applies to license fees; a hot subject license fee can be in the six figure amounts.
Mass market toy grade die cast models can be sold in tens or even hundreds of thousands of pieces; the amortization of tooling fees and license fees is not a major cost factor in this case. But for high quality collectable die cast models, only thousands of pieces will be sold, very seldom would it break into the five figures level. Therefore, the amortization of tooling cost and licensing fees becomes a major cost factor.
Until now, the mark up factor for all die cast model cars is set at around 2.5 ~ 3 times from production cost to retail price. It may be workable for mass market products, but it is no longer viable for high quality models. There are in fact much fewer high quality new die cast models being released into the market recently because there is no profit to be made for people involve in the business.
The factories are being squeezed to keep the prices as low as possible and they are aware that if the prices become too high, very few people will buy model cars. Even if the factories make no profit, it is still better than receiving no orders. If fewer orders come in, thousands of workers are still paid the same but with lower output. Major OEM model car factories in China are minimizing their production capacity or changing their product line because manufacturing die cast models has become too expensive and too complicated when the labor cost is so high and the production involves hundreds of processes using thousands of workers.
When the price of model cars continues to climb higher and higher, less and less people are collecting them. When there are less collectors buying the model cars, retail shops have a much harder time to survive with the declining sales and the higher cost of operations. The online shops are also taking away a big part of the retailing business because they have much lower overhead and they can sell with a lower profit margin. We are seeing model car shops closing down one by one in recent years.
Die cast model cars are classified as toys and the companies can only participate in toy related exhibitions and trade fairs where mostly toy related traders go to conduct their business. As long as people regard these die cast models as a toy, it cannot be priced too high or else people will say it is too expansive and refuse to buy them no matter how nice and delicate the model may be.
For example, a normal Swiss watch consists of less than a hundred components and can be priced for several hundred or even several thousands of dollars. Most of these so called Swiss watches are all having the cases and bands manufactured in China then shipped to Switzerland to have the movement fitted which will then qualify the watch to become Swiss made. When it is Swiss made, it can be priced ten times more than watches made in developing countries. This is the norm in the market and the general perception of consumers. Most people accept that if the watch is made in Switzerland, it has to be expansive. And if the product is made in China, it has to be cheap even though the quality is very good.
The development time for a high quality 1:18 scale model that consist of more than a hundred components, is around one year. If the component number is several hundreds of pieces, then the development time can be two years or even more. Each process during the development period requires many experienced engineers to work on the project. The whole development is far more complicated than regular watch making.
For a high quality 1:18 die cast model car that is made in China, collectors are already complaining that the prices are too high when models are retailed at $100US or over. Some collectors even commented that the workers are getting too little pay and the producers are making too much profit by raising the prices again and again. The true fact is the opposite; the producers are not getting enough money to pay for the ever increasing worker salary. If the model producers were to apply the norm of the other products as mentioned, the viable retail prices would have to be doubled or even tripled. Unfortunately, the product is regarded as toy by the general public even though some will name it as collectable. When it is a toy, it has to be cheap, especially when it is made in China. There must be a change in the product perception by the general public and the price must be higher than what it is now, otherwise, the wages of the workers are going to increase year by year; more and more factories will stay out of the business when they can no longer afford to lose more money and very few collectable die cast models will be made in the future..
Fingercraft and car models making in China
Despite having the wages of basic labors in China increased almost five times over the last decade, model cars are still being manufactured in China. Nowadays, the basic income of a worker in China is more than double the basic wages of other developing countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Vietnam and India; many factories in China, particularly in the garment related industry, have relocated their production facilities into these countries, an effort to reduce their production cost in order to be more competitive in the market.
One of the main reasons that the model car industry is still remaining in China despite much higher wages is that the work requires a lot of the fingertips maneuvering. We call it “fingercraft”, which is more sophisticated than “handicraft”. Fingercraft is unique to countries using Chinese characters (Kanji); countries using Chinese characters also using chopsticks to eat such as China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Children in these countries learn how to write Chinese characters as young as four or five years old, which at the same time, also learn how to use a pair of chopsticks to eat. Learning Chinese characters is a training of seeing a character through the eyes; then the brain commands the movement of the fingertips to replicate the contour of the characters on a piece of paper using a writing tool repeatedly fifty or hundreds of time. Throughout the primary stage of education a child needs to learn more than a thousand characters so the process of replicating is repeated almost everyday. The calligraphy art is weighted heavily in Chinese community and many Children would go one step further and learned the brush pen calligraphy which is even more sophisticated. The soft tipped brush pen is not only about movement of the pen, it is also about the delicate pressure being applied on the tip to regulate the width of the strokes.
While learning how to write Chinese characters, most children would have to master a pair of chopsticks at the same time before they would be able to pick up the food they like on the dinning table. Eating with a pair of chopsticks requires the maneuvering of a tool with the fingertips and when it comes to picking up a peanut, for example, the amount of pressure being applied is rather delicate; too much pressure and the peanut will jump out; too little pressure and it will slip out.
Chopsticks has been commonly used in China for more than three thousands years while the rest of the world only started to use forks commonly on the dinning table not more than six hundreds years ago.
Applying decal on the bonnet using chopsticks skill
The present hourly rate in China is still around US$1.40 and the workers can handle delicate processes. The same kind of process would easily cost ten times more in developed countries and the average age of the workers are much higher. Many so called Swiss made watches selling for thousands of dollars are having the cases and bands fabricated in China and then shipped to Switzerland to fit the locally made movements in order to certify the watch to be Swiss made.
For a while, the model car industry will still remain in China even though the cost of labor keeps increasing. Other developing countries where the labor cost is only half of China, is mostly limited to manufacturing handicraft products but very rarely up to fingercraft products. Whenever mass market products require a lot the maneuvering of fingertips to work with, such as watches, hand-painted porcelains, embroidery and model cars, they are mostly crafted in China.
Real leather are trimmed and upholstered on the plastic seats of model cars
A short video clip in youtube showing how decals are being applied.
Why Are Model Cars Becoming Expensive
The long Chinese New Year Holidays are now over and the workers are gradually coming back to the factories from their home towns. By now, their wages have increased another 20% under the new minimum wages requirements announced by the Chinese Government in February.
A decade ago, the average basic worker would receive a lump sum salary of 400 ~ 500 RMB Yuan per month. The exchange rate at that time was around 8.9 Yuan to the US Dollar, so this was equivalent to $50 ~ 60 US Dollars per month. This salary was based on an average of 60 hours per week, Monday to Saturday, working about 10 hours per day. This was the norm for the industry in China.
Since then, the minimum wages, China’s development, and China’s living standards have been advancing at an enormous rate. The cost of living in China has become much more expensive compared to only ten years ago, particularly in the housing market. Because of this, the government needed to act accordingly in order to offset the ever increasing living cost. This is when the government enforced the Labor Law in 2007 which was largely ignored previously by the industry. Under the law, the national weekly hours worked is 40 hours per week. Any overtime hours would be paid at a rate of 1.5 times on weekdays and double on weekends. Also, all of the retirement and social benefits would need to be added on top of their income. When all of these changes are applied, the average income for the basic worker increased drastically to around 1200 RMB Yuan per month. These drastic changes forced thousands of factories making products at low profits and were labor intensive to close down.
The global financial crisis erupted in late 2008, but China was able to recover quickly. By the end of 2009, everything was pretty much back to pre-crisis levels and in 2010, China’s economy continued to progress at a very quick pace. Housing prices went up at a staggering rate and food became more and more expensive. Workers earning the basic salaries could hardly keep up with supporting their basic needs. So, the wages needed to be adjusted again and again or else the workers would leave the factories and look for work elsewhere for higher paying jobs. Workers now do not want to work at a factory that will not guarantee 60 hours per week. They need the all the possible extra income generated by the overtime pay. It is not easy for factories today to utilize all the workers for 60 hours per week, especially during weekends. But since they now have no choice, it is making the cost of production much higher for factories in China.
As of today, the basic worker earns a lump sum of about 2,000 RMB Yuan per month. With the RMB Yuan exchange rate under enormous pressure form the USA and Europe, it is forced to appreciate gradually from 8.3 to 6.6 against the US Dollar. The average minimum wage now stands at around $300US Dollars per month. This means that the basic salary in US Dollars has increased almost 500% in the last ten years.
A high end die cast model car brand like Autoart is particularly hard hit when the labor cost increases. The proportion between the material cost and the labor cost is approximately 1:4 due to the hundreds of workers needed to manufacture each and every model car on the production line.
The licensing fees for the model cars are also getting higher every year. Back in the 1990’s, no car makers really paid any attention to their intellectual property and only demanded a symbolic fee when a model maker was willing to produce a model to promote their brand. When the profits from car sales became slimmer due to competition, the car makers looked at other alternatives to yield extra income and the licensing of brands became a very good source of revenue for the car makers. Licensing has become such a money maker that race organizers, oil companies, tire companies, etc, are all jumping in to get their share. Today, if a model maker decides to make a race car using a special color such as the Gulf Oil’s blue and orange, they would have to pay a fee to Gulf because of their patented color combination. Some models today can have double, triple or even quadruple licenses and the combined licensing fees can be more then 20% the ex-work price. Because of this, there are much less racing model cars being launched by model makers. It has become too expensive to make and fewer buyers would be willing to pay that price.
It was more profitable for Autoart to sell the model cars back in the early 2000’s with models retailing at around $50US then it is today with model prices retailing at triple the price. Both the model makers and the buyers were happier ten years ago when the material and energy cost were much lower and the factory workers were quite happy with earning only a fraction of today’s wages because life was much simpler and also cheaper then. Even with an increase of almost 500% in the minimum wages in such a small amount of time, the factory workers are still unhappy and will quit their jobs easily to look for work elsewhere to find higher wages.
Despite increasing the selling prices over and over again, it is still impossible to catch up with the ever increasing production cost. When prices increase, the number of collectors buying the model decreases thus reducing the quantity of models sold. This directly affects the amortization of the investment made by the model makers and it drives up the cost of production even further. Most die cast model makers, especially the high-end model makers suffer badly due to the lack of sales and the ever increasing cost of production.
To lower the production cost, it may be possible to move the production facility to another country that still offers low labor cost. However, no other countries can match the quality of workmanship done by Chinese workers. The detailing work and precise manipulation of such small parts with their fingertips is unmatched in the world. It is very difficult for other developing countries to emulate China on anything related to arts and crafts.
Even though the labor cost in China has increased so much in only a decade, China is still considered to be a low cost labor country with a current hourly rate of around $1.20US per hour. Until the mid 2000’s when the hourly rate was around $0.30US per hour, collectors were mostly spoiled with the low price models and now with such a fast increase in production cost, many collectors do not understand why the models are now at such a price.
An average 1/18 scale Autoart model car is now retailing at around $120 ~ 150US. The price is still considered to be very reasonable considering the amount of time and investment put in each model that is released. Each model consists of hundreds of parts takes about one year to develop and the production of each and every model involves hundreds of workers in the production line. Many products such as watches which also have hundreds of parts and are as complex to make demand much higher selling prices.The price of a high end model car will continue to increase as the labor cost and living standards improve in China. There will be fewer people buying model cars as prices increase, but the collectors who understand what is involved in making a high end diecast model will continue to appreciate the reasonable prices and quality being offered. They will understand that there are no other countries able to offer the same in terms of price and quality and that these are not just model cars but a work of arts.
The Making of Pagani Zonda R model
The Pagani Zonda R model is by far the most sophisticated die cast model Autoart has produced to date in 1/18 scale. It consists of 658 components (323 pieces of metal parts, 226 pieces of plastic parts, 69 pieces of photo-etched parts, 34 pieces of chrome plated parts and last but not lease, 6 pieces of die cast body and underchassis parts).
One of the many special features of this model is the exact reproduction of the fully functional pushrod suspension. The Pushrod suspension is inspired by Formula-1 technology and applied in very few super sport cars such as the Koenigsegg, the Pagani and the Porsche Carrera GT. The dampers and springs are not located on the wheel mounts, but connected inboard to the centre of the body shell under the front windscreen and close to the engine in the rear. Pushrods and relay lever/rockers transmit the forces from the wheel mounts to compress the spring/damper elements. To replicate the actuation of pushrod suspension in 1/18 scale, all the rods, levers and linkages of this model have to be made in metal and connected with metal bolts to increase rigidity. When the model car is pressed down, you can see all the metal parts move and compress the dampers and springs, a true movement of pushrod suspension.
Most die cast model makers would rather use plastic parts because it would be much cheaper and simpler to fabricate and assemble. Plastic may appear the same in static form, but when the model is pressed down, all of the plastic components like the rods, levers, linkages and A-arms will flex or bend instead of pushing the dampers and springs like a true pushrod suspension would do. The simple reason is that plastic parts are not rigid enough.
Each rubber tyre contact surface is scrubbed manually by sand paper so that it appears to have been physically used on the road.
All the visible surfaces of the model, inside and outside, including the back side of the front and rear bonnet, is tampon printed with carbon fibre texture to replicate the full carbon fibre body of the Zonda R car. It requires 165 steps of tampon printing to achieve such an effect. The printing of carbon fibre texture is easy on flat surfaces, but when it comes to deep recess area, it requires many trials and errors before a perfect finishing is achieved.
There are also 136 steps of free-hand spray painting and 64 steps of mask spray painting on small parts to make the model looks as realistic as possible.
The engine compartment is highly detailed with hoses and wiring. The four metal exhaust tips, an iconic feature of all Pagani cars, is well interpreted in this scale model.
Even the seat brackets and handle bars are fabricated in metal and the safety harnesses are made with nylon belts.
Other than the full carbon fibre body version, there is also another version with a pearl white upper body and larger front air scopes.
The development of the Zonda R model took more than two years to acheive. Due to the intricacy of the model, the production is arranged for each worker to handle only one or two tasks. In this way, a high quality level will always be sustained. From start to finish, each model is manipulated by more than 700 workers along the production lines.
The Pagani Zonda R car is sold for 1.4 million Euro but the 1:18 scale model retails for only US$290 excluding tax. Considering the amount of work and the components involved, it is a piece of art and well worth the asking price.
We are finally live!
We’re thrilled to announce that our 2.0 website is here! It has an all-new look, all-new features, and all-new member center that will certainly make it one of the internet destinations for collectors and hobbyists.