Buying a car in 2023 is hard, but that seems to be the way it’s going for just about everything these days — even toy cars. And supply-chain disruptions alone don’t explain it. Just like concert tickets, sneakers, game consoles and luxury watches, the Hot Wheels market has been overrun by resellers who snap up the most desirable new die-cast releases from Mattel and flip them for a profit. As with all those other products, the problem has only grown since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. It shows no sign of stopping.
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About a year ago, I wrote about how Target and Walmart seemed perpetually low on stocks of Hot Wheels die-casts, along with possible explanations for that phenomenon. At the time, Mattel’s pre-pandemic staffing cuts, the pandemic itself, and physical bottlenecks like the Ever Given debacle and last year’s border-crossing blockades were believed to play a role. But there’s another issue affecting the Hot Wheels market, the same one you know all too well if you ever attempted to get your hands on a PS5 over the past 24 months — scalpers.
Hot Wheels “mainlines” — the cheapest, blue-blister-pack cars you see in supermarkets and drug stores — cost $1.29 a pop. It’s frankly an astonishing price, barely 40 cents more than what Mattel charged in 1982, even though inflation means they should really cost around $2.88. Positioned above the mainlines are premium, “adult-targeted” collections like Car Culture and Team Transport, which will set you back about $7 or $15, respectively, if you’re buying them in a store.
On the whole, then, Hot Wheels are pretty cheap. However, new casts drop in waves, cycling in and out of stores very quickly. Retailers get shipments every few weeks, and