Get to Know Jun Imai, Acclaimed Hot Wheels Designer and Car Enthusiast
If there’s one person who embodies the creative energy and innovative vision behind Hot Wheels, it’s the company’s Head of Design Jun Imai. Responsible for numerous die-cast cars produced by the company, Imai leads a team that develops over 150 brand-new vehicles each year, from licensed replicas to all-original creations.
Hot off the heels of a new collaboration with Magnus Walker to create a series of Porsche model cars, Jun Imai spoke with The News Wheel to tell us about the design process. During the interview, we took time to get to know the man behind hundreds of our favorite Hot Wheels.
Get the Inside Scoop: See how the Hot Wheels design process works
Q&A: Jun Imai Shares the Secrets of Hot Wheels’ Design Process
TNW: What was your background before coming to Hot Wheels?
Imai: I have been sketching and designing all my life. I played with toy cars as a kid, played with real cars as a big kid, and have always been involved with sports that involved wheels–bicycle racing and skateboarding in particular. I always knew my profession later in life would combine my love of design and all things with wheels.
TNW: So what drew you to designing die-cast replica cars, of all professions?
Imai: I love toys as much as I love cars. Although my formal training is in automotive design, Hot Wheels felt like the perfect place for me. We treat and design every car as if it could be a real one–it’s no different than a concept car design at an automotive studio.
TNW: Then if you weren’t Head of Design at Hot Wheels, what would you be currently doing?
Imai: Probably working for an auto design studio, the 2nd coolest job in the world.
TNW: What would you consider to be the highlights of your career at Hot Wheels thus far?
Imai: I am reminded every time I see my product hanging on the shelf at a store. Better yet, to meet someone, child or adult, who just loves our product. I know what goes into each Hot Wheels car, so to see our product become a part of someone’s life is absolutely the highlight of my design career. I’ve definitely met and worked with people I have looked up to, including Magnus, Steve Caballero, Danica Patrick, Dale Earnhardt Jr., among others.
TNW: Are there any particular designers you consider inspirations or mentors?
Imai: I have made incredible friends through auto and design, and even some leaders right here at Mattel. Within automotive, I’ve been inspired by Dave Marek, Derek Jenkins, and Alex Earle. Felix Holst of Hackrod is a great friend and mentor to me. Listening to Magnus speak about his passion will instantly make you want to get out and drive.
TNW: What car do you currently drive, and has that model ever been turned into a Hot Wheels replica?
Imai: I’ve actually turned a few of my personal cars into a Hot Wheels car, notably my 1971 Datsun 510 wagon, 1974 Datsun 260Z with G nose conversion, and my ’73 Datsun 620 truck. I also have an ’85 911 Carrera 3.2. My daily drivers are a VW MK4 Jetta and a 2014 Honda Odyssey, which coincidentally is a new Hot Wheels model for 2016.
TNW: Wow, that’s a fantastic collection! If you could make absolutely any vehicle into a Hot Wheel car, which one would be at the top of your list?
Imai: A 1971 Nissan Skyline wagon–just because it’s an unusual car, and that era Skyline is my favorite car. That’s why the Nissan KGC10 Skyline is my favorite Hot Wheels car; it looks perfect, just as a Skyline should. I’d also like to see an Audi RS6 Avant.
TNW: We’re all curious…how many Hot Wheels cars do you have at home?
Imai: I actually don’t have too many. Virtually all of the cars that go home end up in the hands of my two kids, age 2 and 4. They don’t stay new for long, though. They’re meant to be played with, so to see my kids play with them is the best reward for the hard work that goes into them.
TNW: What advice do you have for anyone who dreams of pursuing a career similar to yours?
Imai: I have always stood by the statement of standing up for what you believe in, and going for it. That is the same advice I would give to anyone regardless of what they pursue. It’s never let me down.
TNW: Is there anything else you’d like to share that we haven’t touched on already?
Imai: Know that every Hot Wheels car is designed by a car fanatic–every guy and girl on our design team is a car freak and we put everything we’ve got into each one!
Getting to speak with Jun Imai was a thrilling experience. We at The News Wheel are excited to see what other amazing designs he’ll produce in the years to come.
If you love Hot Wheels as much as we do, we highly suggest following Jun on Instagram (@kaidohouse) and see his ongoing work through Hot Wheels’ page (@hotwheelsofficial).
Aaron is unashamed to be a native Clevelander and the proud driver of a 1995 Saturn SC-2 (knock on wood). He gleefully utilizes his background in theater, literature, and communication to dramatically recite his own articles to nearby youth. Mr. Widmar happily resides in Dayton, Ohio with his magnificent wife, Vicki, but is often on the road with her exploring new destinations. Aaron has high aspirations for his writing career but often gets distracted pondering the profound nature of the human condition and forgets what he was writing… See more articles by Aaron.