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Matchbox calls it a day in Shanghai
( 2003-11-17 15:28) (Shanghai Daily)

Shi Ming, a 28-year-old engineer, lingered inside a toy shop for hours last Friday afternoon to buy more than 10 Matchbox toy cars. The most popular brand of scale model cars in the 1980s will disappear from the Chinese mainland by the end of this year.

A buyer looks at a Matchbox scale model car at a shop in Shanghai. The brand will disappear from the Chinese mainland by the end of the year as the local manufacturer will cease production. [Shanghai Daily]
"I grew up with Matchbox toy cars as my mother used to buy me a car every month when I was a child as a reward for being obedient," Shi, who has collected more than 400 over the years, said with sadness. "I can still remember it used to cost 1.6 yuan (19 US cents) but now they are priced at 5 yuan per car."

One could buy Matchbox models of various marques - including Rolls-Royce, Ferrari, BMW, Ford and Audi - as well as police cars, racing cars, ambulances and trucks. The Matchbox name came from the size of its products - they are as small as a matchbox.

However, the cars will no longer be available on the Chinese mainland market next year. The factory producing the scale models will close because the contract with a local joint venture will expire next year and, more importantly, due to the rising labor costs in Shanghai.

The 20-year contract between Shanghai Universal Toys Co Ltd, the local manufacturer of Matchbox cars which used to enjoy an annual revenue of more than 100 million yuan (US$12.06 million), and its American partner Mattel Inc expires in April.

Mattel seemed reluctant to continue manufacturing in Shanghai, according to a salesman, surnamed Liu, with the Matchbox outlet in Shanghai.

Though Matchbox cars will still be available in overseas markets, Chinese fans have to say goodbye to their childhood memories linked with these cars.

Xu Quanning, secretary-general with the Shanghai Toys Association, was more blunt, citing rising labor costs in the city as the reason for the demise of the local Matchbox factory which actually stopped production a month ago.

"Guangdong Province has emerged as China's toy industry hub. It has a cheaper labor force than Shanghai, and many toy exporters have located there," Xu said.

In the first half of this year, Guangdong Province exported US$567.71 million worth of toys while Shanghai only exported US$41.48 million, the State Customs General Administration said.

Another Guangdong-based factory will continue to make small car models for Mattel. But its products will hit the market under Hot Wheels, a high-end toy brand, and most of them will be sold overseas.

Xu also noted that the days when Matchbox could dominate the market are gone. In the Xiangyang Kid World, the largest toy shop in Shanghai, nearly 10 toy companies from Guangdong are selling scale car models with prices ranging from 10 yuan to 300 yuan.

"In the future, I have to go to Malaysia for new models of Matchbox cars. It is like the end of an age for Chinese Matchbox fans," a disappointed Shi said.

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