When was the last time you saw pegs stacked with Hot Wheels at your local big box retailer of choice? I’d estimate it was about nine months ago that I started noticing every Target in my immediate vicinity licked clean of die-cast miniatures. This wasn’t particularly surprising over the holiday season, but we’re in February now, and the toy car aisle anywhere I go pretty much looks just like the one at the top of this post: shelves full of those five packs nobody seems to want, but the singles and the premium Car Culture series are always, always gone. And I’m not the only one who’s noticed.
It must absolutely suck to be a kid into cars right now and see no Hot Wheels to relentlessly beg your parents to buy. Especially because Hot Wheels today are better than they’ve ever been and totally unpredictable. They’re putting out widebody Toyota Starlets, for chrissakes. Unsurprisingly, this miserable drought can be blamed on the same sort of supply chain holdups that have decimated every other industry. Last time I checked though, toy cars didn’t contain any semiconductors. What gives?
As always, there’s a confluence of factors at play here. In addition to toys flying off shelves because kids have been stuck inside, there are still myriad ripple effects stemming from events months ago that continue to take their toll. Mattel cut its workforce significantly after Toys R Us shuttered four years ago, as Last Mile Logistics points out. That might’ve been fine if the world didn’t completely stop about a year later. Then there was the whole Suez Canal thing — yes, Hot Wheels was counted among the Ever Given’s precious cargo. Couple all that with the ongoing truck driver shortage, exacerbated by situations like the recent Ambassador Bridge protest, and it’s not hard to understand why everything sucks right now.
In the case of Hot Wheels, it probably doesn’t help that the world is full of sharks that relish at snapping up any item someone might want if there’s even the slimmest chance of a profit to flip on eBay. Word of advice: If you don’t already know what models Hot Wheels is offering this year, don’t click this eBay link because it’ll just enrage you. In fact, I suggest that instead of dropping $US25 ($35) on a car that normally costs $US6 ($8), go hit up Target and nab something from Tarmac Works. You’ll spend about the same, but at least you’ll get a model of way higher quality.
Also, while Mattel doesn’t directly sell every Hot Wheels cast to consumers, it’s not a blameless party in this either. The Mattel Creations store offers choice cuts of the brand’s premium Car Culture and Team Transport series that enthusiasts might’ve missed the first time around. But rather than sell them à la carte or bundled in reasonable ways that make sense, they’re sold in large, stupidly expensive multi-packs that no average consumer would have any interest in buying. That E46 M3 below looks sweet, but why on Earth would I need two of them?
This is all to say that buying toy cars in 2022, much like buying real ones, completely sucks. Mattel recently announced its fourth-quarter earnings for last year, and it recorded global net sales 10 per cent higher than the same period in 2020. It also floated potential price increases for its products, per Reuters. I reached out to Mattel for some insight on what’s going on, particularly for Hot Wheels, and will update this with whatever I hear back.