Toy cars loose high place on Santa’s list image

The winter holidays are fast approaching and we should all start considering what to ask from our usual benefactor of December, Santa Claus. As he and his elves have only a few more weeks to fill those packs and hoist them onto the sleigh, the contents are still rather mobile – but now more of a smartphone variety, rather than a train or a fire truck.

For example, back in the day, in “Home Alone,” character Kevin foils the robbers using strategically placed Micro Machines; if the movies were made today, would he bonk them over the head with his iPad or blind them with the flashlight app on his Android?

Toy-watchers say the youthful indifference to vehicles that is worrying automakers is also changing the landscape of the playroom: Kids these days just aren’t as into toy cars as they used to be and both industries blame it on the computer. Why hop behind the wheel or run Hot Wheels races on the basement floor when you can Facetime your friends or drive a Formula One car on the LED screen?

Christopher Byrne, an industry expert known as “The Toy Guy,” said technology is indeed eroding the allure of the four-wheeled plaything.

“One of the roles of playing is to help us accommodate and adapt to the culture,” said Byrne, whose new book, “Toy Time” looks at the history of American playthings. “And car culture in the United States has changed a lot. Toy car makers are really challenged to find ways for kids to play with them.”

Kids use toys to emulate adult life, he said, and when adults are more into electronics than their vehicles, that’ll be reflected on toy store shelves. And, he said, the relative blandness of today’s auto offerings compared to the glitz of ’50s sedans and the visceral appeal of ’60s and ’70s muscle cars also is to blame.

“Today it’s all about comfort and luxury,” he said. “And what 7-year-old wants to play ‘comfort and luxury?’ It’s kind of a death knell.”

You’ll note, he said, that a lot of toy cars these days are elaborate fantasy vehicles instead of production model replicas; that’s again because who really wants to push a compact sedan around the sidewalk? Compared to 30 or 40 years ago, he said, when the market for toy cars stretched into the teenage years — especially with the advent of Hot Wheels — it’s pretty much a preschool market today.