Senior designer Jun Imai talks to TGM about die-cast models, Magnus Walker and Nissan fandom
Walk us through a day in the life of a Hot Wheels designer
Hot Wheels designers have a variety of responsibilities. Our junior designers spend much of their time sketching the next generation of Hot Wheels cars. They work on multiple designs at various stages of design and development, all at the same time. They may be starting sketches for a brand new project, while they oversee the development model of another and approving the final paint and finish on another. It’s common for our designers to be working on several cars at once.
Senior-level designers are typically responsible for entire product lines, so in addition to the above tasks, they work with cross-functional teams to ensure that the lines progress throughout the year, and leading the junior designers. But above all, Hot Wheels designers have fun, and we incorporate play into our every day, whether it’s testing our newly arrived prototypes through our sets, or testing out one of our cars on a virtual track in a gaming simulator.
Most of us are car collectors, builders and drivers, so we spend a fair amount of time talking about our latest modifications.
Where do your ideas for new designs typically come from?
Inspiration is everywhere. New trends, forms, experiences. We actually get a lot of ideas from play and interacting with kids! They have vivid imaginations that harness the wonder of creativity.
Does Hot Wheels welcome new ideas from fans and customers?
While we don’t take formal submissions, we are always asked when we’re designing a particular car, so we have a temperature gauge on what’s in demand by our best fans.
From a designing point of view, how does a Hot Wheels die-cast model differ from other scale model cars?
Hot Wheels die-cast cars are unique in many ways. First of all, our designers come from a formal automotive design background. Many have previous auto design experiences which also come into play when we design full-size vehicles. We design all of our vehicles around specific dimensions for wheels, axles, etc., so it’s not a matter of shrinking down a file of a full-sized car. We design and build them from the ground up.
Also, our vehicles work on tracks as you may know. And we have an entire ecosystem of tracksets and playsets. Many of these sets have boosters that send our cars flying through loops and obstacles, which require us to design in details that enhance performance.
Tell us about some of the more interesting Hot Wheels collaborations in recent years.
We’ve had great success collaborating with Magnus Walker, in which we’ve asked him to create the designs that appear on his signature cars. It’s a much deeper collaboration than simply replicating his cars, and we feel that this resonates with mutual fans of Hot Wheels and Urban Outlaw. We’ve also had great collaborations with Sung Kang (of Fast & Furious fame), replicating his Fugu Z. It’s easily one of the most recognisable project cars and we’re happy to have it in our line-up. Sung was instrumental in making sure we got all of the details right.
Of all the Hot Wheels cars you’ve ever designed in your career, which is the most memorable?
I’m going to say the Hot Wheels Collector Edition - ’71 Datsun Bluebird 510 wagon, as it’s a replica of one of my personal, and favourite project cars.
If you could be a designer for any carmaker in the world, who would you be working for?
I am a passionate fan of Nissan and Porsche, so I can easily see myself designing away at these two carmakers.
What is your dream car?
1971 Nissan Skyline KPGC10 “Hakosuka” GT-R with the S20 engine. If money was no object, this is the car I would buy and treasure by driving it everyday.