(This is something new. I miss writing, so on a regular basis, I’ll give my thoughts on a topic or two related to our hobby, based on questions from collectors. Follow me on Instagram and Facebook to know when to submit a question. Today, why I think Hot Wheels should stop numbering RLC cars.)
The collector reaction was swift and strong. Hot Wheels, when announcing the release of the RLC Datsun 510 in Gulf livery, mentioned there would be 35,000 made. A little bit later that tidbit was removed. Then the models started showing up with no numbered sticker at all.
A lot of folks were bothered by that. On one hand, I totally get it. Mattel said one thing and then clearly changed course. Whether that means they are producing more or just forgot to add a numbered sticker, I have no idea. Maybe it was just a dumb copy-and-paste editing error from a previous article. But if Mattel says one thing and then changes it, that isn’t cool.
On the other hand, if the problem collectors have is Mattel not numbering RLC models anymore, then I disagree. It’s time to do away with the RLC individual numbering.
And I am talking SPECIFICALLY about the RLC. I still think numbering Convention models is a great idea, and there are plenty of other products in our hobby that are numbered, for good reason. I’ve even jumped in the game, with my recent Tarmac X Leen pins and Dream Custom mats all individually numbered.
But Convention models haven’t surpassed more than 6k-7k produced. Many other products stay in the 3- to 4-digit number range. Yet RLC production numbers have skyrocketed. Long gone are the days of 3000 (BRE Datsun 510) to 4000 (Candy Striper Gasser) produced. It seems like production numbers are jumping by 5 to 10k a year, with at least 30k of each model produced now. I guess I just wonder if there is a threshold that has been passed.
It seems we collectors have been lulled into putting value on numbered cars. We are just used to it. In some ways it makes no sense. A car numbered 24193/30000 is just as rare as a car numbered 00001/30000, so we put a false value on the lower numbered car. It’s obvious why we do it, but is it really that important to the RLC experience? Do we just do it because we can? And is it really a reason why we collect RLC? It’s fun to get a lower number, but did you buy one just on the off chance you’d get a unique number?
Rarity is in many ways a myth in our hobby. There are truly rare models, from variations to extremely limited runs. But most Hot Wheels are obtainable, depending on how much a person is willing to pay. It is really the perceived value that matters, and value – at least the monetary kind – isn’t always attached to rarity. In fact, it hardly ever is. The desirability of a model is attached to a myriad of factors, and they can be somewhat arbitrary.
RLC models sell out because collectors want them. That wasn’t always the case. 10 years ago, a model produced at a 3000 count and priced at around $10 wasn’t a guaranteed sellout. Now, RLC is producing 10 times that of each model and pricing them close to $30 each, and every one of them is selling out. That certainly speaks to the improvement of the RLC, making these models more desirable, but also speaks to collector’s strong sense of FOMO. If the previous model sold out, it makes it even more likely that the next model will sell out.
That demand led Mattel to eliminate the Membership window and allow for folks to join the RLC at any time. That was the right move. Why would Mattel keep folks who want to join from joining, especially considering anyone who joins knows being able to buy any specific model isn’t a guarantee? The RLC finally modernized, mirroring where niche collector markets have gone. Think Nike with the SNKRS app. Anyone can download the app and create a membership. And they all do, just for the slim chance they might snag that pair of Air Jordans they want.
“But joining Nike SNKRS is free,” you might argue, “and Mattel makes us pay $10 a year for the RLC.” That is true, but I would also argue that the chances of getting an RLC model are FAR better than getting a pair of Jordans. Most collectors I know are able to get the model they want more than they get shut out. It means that these production numbers are a reflection of Mattel keeping up.
It’s a strange thing, but Mattel will never produce enough RLC models to match the number of members. That wouldn’t be smart. We don’t like to admit it, but psychology is a major factor. These are selling out BECAUSE they sell out. Similarly, the reason we go bonkers for Super Treasure Hunts is because there is no guarantee we will find a Super Treasure Hunt. There are enough Super Treasure Hunts out there for you to keep hope that you might one day find one, but not enough for you to always find one. There are enough RLC models produced to give you a decent chance at getting one, but the fact that you might not gives you a sense of urgency. Too many produced and that urgency wanes. Too few produced and you won’t even try to get one unless you really want that specific model.
It has nothing to do with a specific number. You didn’t buy the Gulf 510 because you thought there were 35,000 produced. You logged in early, stretched your fingers, got your credit card ready, and went for it right at 9am PT that Tuesday because you thought it would sell out. Air Jordan collectors aren’t logged in early on the SNKRS app because Nike told them how many pairs they made. They did it because they know the shoes will sell out.
And in many ways, it’s not the 35,000 that makes that model exclusive. It’s the $10 you voluntarily paid to be part of the group of people allowed to pursue the model. It’s psychology again. You paid to be part of something. No matter the size of the club, you had to decide to be a part of it, and you even were willing to pay. You created the exclusivity yourself.
So the number produced doesn’t matter. If the model sells out, it isn’t rare, it’s desired. And since you have no idea what number your model will be, you didn’t factor that in when you bought it. If you got a desired number, like a low number, you just got lucky. The model is still exclusive.
Numbering cars is just something that isn’t necessary, and the collector’s reaction to the 510 shows why it can be more hassle than its worth. If Mattel decides to produce a specific number, and adds that number to a sticker, they are locked in to that number. But if memberships grow, and they need to produce more to give us all a better chance at getting one, without a number they can. What is important to them, and us, is that they sell out.
Lastly, you really don’t want to know how many are produced. What does 35,000 really mean? You know it is a lot more than used to be produced. But you don’t know what the ratio of models produced is to actual RLC members. What if it is lower than it used to be? And what if soon Hot Wheels is numbering models at 60k? 100k? 500k? What will that mean to you? You actually might see that number and perceive they aren’t as exclusive, when ratio-wise they actually might be even more. Why try and figure it out? Selling out or not is all you need.
No one knows how many Air Jordans are produced. It doesn’t matter. We want what we want. RLC models have hit that level in our world. We want them no matter what. The world is just different now. If the popularity of our hobby grows, we all benefit. That means more cool models to collect. Mattel should never lock out someone willing to participate. And because of that they will need the ability to grow with it.
We all collect for our own reasons. I won’t argue that. I also won’t argue if you like the numbered models. I actually like them too. But I don’t think we will miss them as much as we think we will. And I think eliminating them will indirectly bring more enjoyment in the long run.