RacingJunk talks to Ricardo Briceno, Vice President Franchise Marketing at Mattel, Inc., about Hot Wheels, the Legends Tour and How Toy Trends Represent the Realities of the Race Industry
The 2020 Hot Wheels Legends tour wrapped up recently, inducting a 1970 Pontiac Trans Am custom car, built by Riley Stair of Sacramento, into the Hot Wheels Garage of Legends, with plans to memorialize it with a 1:64 scale diecast model. The Legends Tour was virtual this year, thanks to COVID-19, but no less thrilling, with the final heat broadcast live from Jay Leno’s garage. Many race and performance enthusiasts either kick off or supplement a burgeoning obsession with vehicles via Hot Wheels as kids. The tiny, perfect replicas concentrate everything that’s cool about cars into a small space with big impact. RacingJunk recently talked to Ricardo Briceno, Vice President of Franchise Marketing at Mattel, Inc, the company that makes Hot Wheels, to explore the connection between toys and the track, and how the love of cars is really universal.
RacingJunk: Hot Wheels has been a mirror of the automotive industry for a very long time, particularly the race and performance aspects (i.e. the Hot Wheels Snake and Mongoose collaboration). How has the brand reflected the changes in the race and performance industry over the years?
Ricardo Briceno: As a 50+ year old brand, a lot has changed since our inception and we’re always challenging ourselves to innovate and stay relevant with the times. One thing that hasn’t changed, though, is our high standards of performance and design. We turn to every element of car culture and pop culture to draw inspiration for our products, so as the race and performance industry evolves so do we. From our longstanding partnerships with Indycar, NASCAR, NHRA, Formula Drift and more! From the first Mongoose & Snake Drag Race set in 1970, to the Hot Wheels Formula DRIFT S15 Silvia, and most recently Hot Wheels x IWC Racing Team Transport, we’ve been bringing trends from the racing and performance industry to toy cars for nearly our entire brand history. We celebrate racing and performance and celebrate the challenger spirit in all corners of the automotive world!
RacingJunk: Can you speculate on changes to the industry based on the types of Hot Wheels that are created and sold (I know this is a little bit of a reach), or on the best-sellers?
Ricardo Briceno: While it is difficult to speculate which came first, the chicken or the egg, we CAN say that Hot Wheels has influenced generations of the auto industry and we continue to do so. Top car designers, journalists, mechanics and collectors around the world began their auto enthusiasm with Hot Wheels! With around eight billion Hot Wheels sold, Hot Wheels is incredibly inclusive and appeals to all aspects of car culture. We even received the Autoweek Car Culture award in our 50th Anniversary as proof of our longstanding influence in the industry.
RacingJunk: For the auto industry, retaining the interest and excitement of the public is always key. As the general trend away from power and performance, and towards, perhaps self-driving cars and reliable transportation, continues, how do you continue to capture interest with Hot Wheels?
Ricardo Briceno: While it is true that focus has moved towards self driving cars and reliable and clean transportation, the excitement of amazing design and performance has not diminished. We continue to celebrate design and performance just like in 1968 but now we have 52 years more of car history and culture to draw from and celebrate!
RacingJunk: Hot Wheels sponsors a live Legends tour that not only showcases amazing builds, but uses these to find a new die-cast model. This year, that experience happened virtually. How did the company pivot to virtual and how has it worked?
Ricardo Briceno: To clarify, Hot Wheels doesn’t sponsor the tour. The brand IS the tour and the new format actually allowed us to reach more fans not only around the country – but around the globe! While the pivot began out of necessity for the safety of our fans, employees and partners, we found that the 2020 Hot Wheels Legends Tour was the largest and most successful yet!
RacingJunk: The wrap-up of the Legends tour was this weekend. What have been some of the highlights of the virtual tour, and what sort of trends do you see in the competition? Any guesses yourself as to the winner?
Ricardo Briceno: This year we had more cars than ever submitted to the Hot Wheels Legends Tour, so our judges had their job cut out for them. With more than 10,000 custom cars submitted throughout the year, it’s evident that car culture and passion for custom builds is stronger than ever. We saw everything from high-performance sports cars to tricked out custom busses, but one thing all cars had in common was they were totally unique and a lot of heart went into building them.