Exclusive Interview: Jimmy Ye Founder and Owner of AUTOart Models
When you have a chance to meet the founder of one of the world’s foremost die-cast model manufacturers, you really don’t know what to expect. When I was offered the opportunity to sit down at this year’s Nuremberg Toy Fair and chat with Jimmy Ye, founder of AUTOart, I jumped at the chance.
Jimmy is a smart, immaculately dressed businessman, based in the manufacturing power house that is Hong Kong.
I start by asking Jimmy what his favourite model is. “My favourite model is always my next model” says Jimmy with a wry smile and a sparkle in his eye. I can see Jimmy loves a challenge.
I immediately refer to the recent AUTOart Signature release, the 1:18 Pagani Zonda and ask Jimmy how this project came about.
Jimmy explains that he has personally known Horacio Pagani for some years, ever since Pagani first visited Hong Kong to sell his then unknown sports car.
When Horacio Pagani arrived in Hong Kong, he just possessed his original design drawings. However, even with just drawings his vision was well received.
According to Jimmy, there are now over a dozen Pagani’s in Hong Kong alone.
Having great access to Pagani, Jimmy thought the Zonda R was the perfect challenge for AUTOart.
With its removable front and rear clamshells, much of the workings of the car were on show, especially the pushrod suspension. Jimmy explains the pushrod suspension cannot be replicated in plastic, especially if you actually want it to work, plastic is not stiff enough. Metal would be ideal, but the tolerances would need to be so fine and the finish smooth enough to enable natural movement, just like the real thing.
Eventually the entire Zonda model would comprise of over 645 parts, more than a fine Swiss watch, says Jimmy. The technical challenge of producing and selling a model car such as the Zonda, says Jimmy, at only a few hundred dollars is immense. Jimmy compares this to a watch manufacturer who can charge several thousand dollars for fewer parts!
This is where Jimmy’s skilled work force comes into its own. His Chinese workers are very skilled and dexterous with their hands.
The rise of the Chinese manufacturer is largely due to not only to competitive labour rates, (however this is rapidly changing), but also to fine hand craftsmanship. 600 workers produce 20 individual moulds and assemble the 650 individual components.
The Pagani took to 2 years to develop and this together with the complex construction, even Jimmy says he is astonished that they are able to produce a piece of this sophistication that sells for only around $300.
It’s the amount of trial and error that a manufacturer is prepared to undertake that marks out the progressive manufacturer.
When I ask Jimmy what his greatest production challenge is, he explains that contrary to what people think, a simple saloon car like a Maybach or Lexus can sometimes be more difficult to perfect than an exotic hypercar. A 4-door sedan can have very little to distinguish its shape. The door fit, the wheel arches, even the panel gaps all contribute to its apparently simple silhouette. Jimmy likens the process to fine bone china where a faultless undecorated piece is more expensive than a decorated piece. It has to be perfect or it just won’t work.
Jimmy explains that it can take almost 6 months to refine a model, and very careful attention has to be paid, for example, to the way the doors and all the panels open.
Many test fittings are carried to ensure that the panel gaps are spot on. Again referring to a watch, Jimmy says no watch manufacturer expects the customer to open up his watch and have a look inside!
I ask Jimmy if, as the world market grows larger, it is more difficult to make a choice for a new model. Jimmy laughs, “The world is a big place, Italians like spaghetti, Chinese like noodles, everyone has their own taste.”
Take the Honda City. AUTOart received a lot of criticism for choosing such an obscure subject. “Why make this?” said a lot of people. However, in Japan, this car sold out before it was even released. AUTOart offices all over the world listen to customer’s feedback very carefully. Every day they get new ideas, many ideas are processed, but it’s all a gamble.
I ask Jimmy where he sees AUTOart in 5 years time. Jimmy says his biggest challenge is to maintain the current level of detail, but also the price level. He sees this balance as his biggest challenge.
I finish by asking Jimmy if he still have the same passion for cars both real and in miniature and he smiles. “Of course,” says Jimmy. He raced in the 80’s and 90’s and still likes to enjoy the odd piece of track time when he can, and he said he still enjoys pushing the limits on track whilst avoiding the gravel traps as much as he can. “It’s very much like making model cars,” says Jimmy!