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Exclusive Interview: Hot Wheels Head of Design Jun Imai Shares Inside Look at Design Process

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Magnus Walker and Jun Imai

Magnus Walker sits with Hot Wheels Head of Design Jun Imai
Photo: David Chickering

Behind every Hot Wheels car you purchase and play with lies an incredible amount of work: a team of talented designers painstakingly labored to create every nuance of that die-cast model.

Jun Imai, Head of Design for Hot Wheels, and his team have a hand in all the die-cast vehicles–from Basics to Licensed Entertainment lines–released by the company. Every year, he guides his team through the development of over 150 brand new vehicles, consisting of both licensed vehicles and their own original designs. In addition, he has special full-scale projects going on, too. Without a doubt, Imai is a driving force behind what Hot Wheels has become.

If you’ve ever wondered about the secrets behind the Hot Wheels design process, we at The News Wheel are thrilled to share Imai’s insight with you.We got a chance to speak with him following his recent collaboration with Porsche expert Magnus Walker.

How It All Started: Get to know Jun Imai, the man behind so many of your favorite Hot Wheels designs

Q&A: Jun Imai Shares the Secrets of Hot Wheels’ Design Process

TNW: How did your recent collaboration with Magnus Walker come about?

Imai: We’re big Porsche fans, and after seeing Magnus and his cars on the Urban Outlaw documentary, we thought it would be awesome to do a Hot Wheels collaboration with him. He has the passion, persona, and a true appreciation for the craft–and the cars to match.

TNW: What inspired Hot Wheels to create the Premium Car Culture Assortment (which includes Walker’s Porsche replicas)?

Imai: Most of our premium product has been focused on earlier generations, and until now, we haven’t offered a line that celebrated what’s going on in the streets and tracks of today. Choosing models for each set is something the designers have a lot of fun with.

TNW: We’re curious about the design process of creating a new Hot Wheels car. Is the process different when you’re creating a replica of an existing car than when you’re making something completely original?

Imai: The design always starts with a sketch. Even for a licensed car, we have to establish proportions and style that is unique and integral to our product. The process for a licensed vs. original is certainly different in that a licensed vehicle needs to be correct and representative of the actual car. In many cases, we’ll take it upon ourselves to modify the car with aero or body modifications if the licensor allows. For original ones, we go all-out and throw conventionality out the window.

TNW: So when you’re designing Hot Wheels cars based on specific production models, the manufacturers provide guidelines you have to follow?

Imai: Some automakers are more stringent or more involved than others, but typically our partners are aware of our production methods and accommodate accordingly. Each one works with us in their individual way.

TNW: Over the years, you’ve designed many vehicle replicas for Volkswagen and Honda. Do the design philosophies from these automakers still influence the Hot Wheels car designs you oversee?

Imai: I spent some time during my education at both companies, and learned a lot. I still apply these learnings to my everyday design life.

TNW: We heard that you credited the Porsche 935/78 as being a challenge because of its interesting shape/proportions. What have been some other challenging models for you and in what ways?

Imai: We do have standardized dimensions for wheels, axles, etc. that allow us to produce the amount of product we do. Sometimes, this is also a challenge for certain cars. The Porsche 935/78 was definitely one of the most challenging, but successful. We face similar challenges when doing very low supercars, such as Lamborghinis and similar-proportioned cars. The Mazda Furai was tricky due to its thin body panels and complex shapes. These are features we have to try our best to capture within our production specs and materials.

Datsun Hot WheelsTNW: So what is the most challenging aspect of designing a Hot Wheels vehicle?

Imai: To make them look the way they do with the performance to match. It is not a simple exercise of scaling down a car. So much goes into a single Hot Wheels car design, which is why we need a staff of real auto designers working on our products.

TNW: If you get into a design funk while you’re, what do you take to get your creative juices flowing again?

Imai: We get out and drive! All of us on the team have our fun cars to blast around in when the need arises.

TNW: That sounds like a blast and definitely would get the juices flowing. Last question: of the ones you’ve created, which Hot Wheels design are you most proud of?

Imai: Probably the Datsun 510 Wagon. It’s sparked an entirely new breed of Hot Wheels fans and is a great replica of my favorite project car in my personal stable.

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).