Majorette (toy manufacturer)
Majorette is a French toy manufacturer which mostly produces small die-cast cars and other construction and military vehicles particularly in 1:64 scale. This is a normal 2.5 to 3 inch size, thus Majorette has sometimes been called the Matchbox Toys of France. Traditionally, production was centered in the urban area of Lyon, but models are now made in Thailand.
The company was founded in 1961 by Emile Véron - of the family that also created Norev (the Véron family name spelled backwards)(Richardson 1999, p. 156). Initially, model railways and accessories were made and the firm was known as Rail-Route. By 1964 the first cars came to market, and in 1967, the name was changed to Majorette.
Majorette became the main French manufacturer of Matchbox-sized miniature vehicles (roughly pegged to 3 inches long, so of varying scales). The company soon became the largest producer of any French toy car manufacturer. The company has generally focused on everyday French and European models, and the main toy competition was Matchbox of Hackney, London, but also German Siku and, conceptually, Japanese Tomica. Though French cars like Peugeot and Renault were emphasized, other licensed marques covered by Majorette include North American vehicles from General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler. Japanese Nissan and Toyota are also represented (Ragan 2000, p. 37).
At the end of 1980, Majorette purchased revered diecast scale car and truck producer Solido (Militaires Solido website). About this same time the Portuguese company Novacar was also purchased and Majorette production commenced at that factory in Portugal. Besides their important domestic presence, through large commercial channels Majorette relies heavily on sales to foreign markets. In 1982, Majorette USA was established in Miami, Florida, but that extension was relatively short-lived as Majorette models have not been retailed in the U.S. since the late 1990s. Majorette was purchased by Smoby in 2003. In 2008, there was talk that Majorette, then called Smoby-Majorette, was to be divorced from Smoby and sold to MI29, a French investment fund which owns Bigben Interactive for €3,900,000. This venture was abandoned in 2009 when Majorette found itself insolvent again, and through a tribunal at the commercial court of Paris, a sale was granted to Simba-Dickie, who bought Smoby. Majorette and Solido today remain a part of the Simba-Dickie group, which is more commonly called Dickie Toys.
Series and Packaging
Over the years, Majorette has adapted to increasing competition, with mixed results. The first line was the 100 series of roughly 3 inch long vehicles (Johnson 1998, 125). Then the 200 series of the same size replaced it around 1970 and was very successful as Majorette penetrated many world markets. 100 and 200 series cars and trucks were much like Matchbox, though the focus was on French brand vehicles. Some were cast in a rather bulky and thick style when compared with Matchbox, Siku, or Tomica.
The popular 300 series combinations of cars with trailers and boats as well as semi-articulated trucks dated from the mid-1970s (Ragan 2000, p. 37, 81). One clever example was the handsome Volkswagen beetle towing kayaks on a trailer, the Renault Michelin canvas topped tractor trailer in blue and yellow from the 1980s, or the Chevy pickup truck hauling a luxurious yacht (Ragan 2000, p. 82; Rixon 2005, p. 96). Buses like the 'Londonlink' were also produced in the 300 series in the mid-1980s. These were promotionals advertising the new bus service, but though the labeling was true-to-life, the toy Majorettes decorated bore little resemblance to the real Londonlink buses (Rixon 2005, p. 103).
Packaging for Majorette models has always had a red or orange motif. For example, 1970s 300 series cars and trucks sported a nostalgic looking somewhat art-deco-style blister card package with yellow at the bottom which changed upwards to orange, red and then purple. In the center of the package a downward pointing arrow design went rather spectrally from light green at the top to dark green and blue. Package backs featured fifteen illustrations (not photos) of other vehicles in the 300 series with their accompanying numbers. Each package was the same for each model, with little gold stickers on the plastic blisters labeling the number and type of vehicle (in French).
Into the eighties, 200 series blister packs were a simple, even austere, red and white with the Majorette logo in gold. For a time, there were no illustrations. Soon illustrations appeared, and the cards appeared with either red or blue backgrounds. About the same time, especially for the U.S. market, vehicles were often placed in clear plastic containers (not blister cards) colored in gold, white and red. Into the 1990s, vehicles normally appeared in bright red blister cards with more graphics and illustrations with a yellow band around the Majorette name..
Similar to Matchbox, Budgie or Siku, the standard series of cars was about 1:64, but the scale was mainly aligned to three inches. Other manufacturers, like Tri-ang's Spot On maintained precise scale across all vehicles, which often was a problem when considering uniform packaging techniques. Scale varied whether a Majorette vehicle was a small mini car like the cutely-done Renault Twingo or the Volvo Yoplait truck - all being anchored to the 2.5 to 3 inch size.
During the 1980s, many larger cars, trucks, farm and construction vehicles were introduced in the 4 to 6 inch size. These varied from the Lincoln limousine to farm tractors and trailers and cement mixers. All were packaged in the same eye-catching red packaging. Among these were the 600 series of semi-tractor trucks.
One line of cars was known as the Sonic Flashers. These were standard sized Majorettes that, when pushed down on, produced a siren blare with flashing lights. These came in military, police, fire, and ambulance versions. These vehicles had durable electronics - with batteries sometimes lasting an entire decade before losing power. Today Majorette "Light and Sound" vehicles fill this gap - though they are larger, with pull-back windup motors.
Another line based on the 200 series were the Road Eaters. Regular cars were offered with tampo printing of various food companies' products pad printed on them, such as Willy Wonka "Gobstoppers", "Nerds", "Dweebs" and "Runtz" candy, "Swanson Kids Fun Feast" and "Swanson Kids Grilled Cheese Barnie Bear", "Campbell's Dinosaur Vegetable Soup", "Campbell's Teddy Bears", "Cry Baby" candy, "Pepsi" and "Diet Pepsi", "Cheetos Chester", "Peter Pan Creamy", and "Franco American Spaghetti Os" (Johnson 1998, 126-138). Other food products were also advertised and food coupons were offered with the vehicles. These cars were usually offered in two packs. Another popular line were the 'Circus' vehicles and Coca-Cola brand cars.
Majorette was always oriented to play value with sets, tracks, and accessories (Richardson 1999, pp. 156,175). During the 1980s and 1990s Majorette made play sets called Majo-kits. Majo-kits came with plastic pavement pieces that locked together to form the streets of a town. Pieces were straight, inner corner, outer corner and others that could be used as parking spaces. Each piece had at least one hole on it where objects such as traffic signs, street lights, parking meters, rubbish bins, flowers telephone booths and even buildings could be inserted. Some sets would include one or more Majorette vehicles and others included figurines for added play value. The varied piece sized were not to scale with one another.
Although mainly a die-cast car and truck producer, Majorette has had a plane and helicopter line to compete with Matchbox Skybusters. The Majorette airplane and helicopters line was expanded in 2013 to include such airlines as Air Mauritius and TUIFly, along with eleven others and five fictitious ones (Majorette website 2013).
Production in Brazil
In the late 1970s to early 1980s, the Brazilian toy firms of Inbrima and Kiko manufactured Majorette models under license. By producing locally, Majorette benefited by avoiding duties on imported French models. Brazil had established the Free Economic Zone of Manaus (in Portuguese, Zona Franca de Manaus) to boost regional development in the state of Amazonas.
Inbrima models had a "black label" attached to the base identifying the place of manufacture, while the majority of models had the later "FAB ZF MANAUS” white plastic tab affixed to the base, indicating that the models had been made in that city.
Around the same period, Mr. A. Kikoler and his toy brand name Kiko also reached an agreement with Majorette to produce approximately 15 Majorette models in Brazil (at a factory in Rio de Janeiro), again, as with Inbrima, with local color schemes and liveries unique to Brazil. Kiko models included the Datsun 240Z, the VW T2, Citroen Dyane, and the Renault 4. On the bases, ‘Kiko Majorette’ was cast over the original Majorette name, with ‘made in Brazil’ in Portuguese.
Marketing to Confront Matchbox
Though realism and detail were not always as good as Matchbox or Tomica, by the early 1970s Majorette established a reputation of making quality, heavy vehicles, incorporating features like opening doors and hoods, translucent plastic parts, and sprung suspension systems. For example, mid-1970s Majorettes were superior models to French Norev Minijet cars, as demonstrated by the Citroen CX models from both firms - the paint finish on the Majorette is more consistent, and less thickly applied compared to the Norev. Doors on Majorettes are sprung as is the suspension. Number plates and detailed plastic parts set the older Majorettes apart. More plastic parts are now featured on the Norev cars and metal bases are common on their new castings, in contrast to Majorette which has now moved downmarket with plastic bases, and less expensive tampo printing for headlamps instead of clear plastic pieces. For comparison, Norev wheels are now detailed replicas of the real thing compared to Majorette's more generic offerings.
Into the 1980s, a marketing strategy emphasize the toy appeal of the cars, including brighter paints, large tampos and slightly exaggerated bodies. However, this was well executed, and even if the cars lost some realism, they had a particular, attractive solidness and style not like the competition. And in 1980 they bought Solido.
The 1990s brought financial troubles and Majorette began to retreat from the U.S. market (Ragan 2000, p. 37). This time period saw a tremendous impact in the quality of the miniatures. After bankruptcy was followed in 1992 by a takeover by Ideal loisirs, most production was relocated to Thailand, where a factory in the Nava Nakorn Industrial Promotion Zone, in Pathum Thani Province, was built comprising 1,000 square meters. As of 2012, the factory had grown to 13,000 square meters.
Though most Majorette models have since been made in Thailand, one exception was the Portuguese NOVACAR series acquired by Majorette. These were well-done models with plastic bodies and metal bases - for a time these cars were marketed as a new '100' series, but later regular Majorette models were also made in Portugal as blister packages were marked with red "P"s, "F"s, and "T"s for Portugal, France, or Thailand.
At this time, Majorettes began to lose the proud and familiar 'Made in France' on their bases and on packaging. Actually, the shiny metal base itself gradually disappeared from new models, replaced by ordinary black plastic, a cost saving solution common in many toy brands. The loss was not only visual or tactile - Majorettes lost their characteristic weight and solid feel.
The original Majorette brand survives. After Majorette's parent company Ideal loisirs was purchased by the German entity Triumph Adler, now entering the 21st century, batches of better castings have been introduced, as well as an image face lift that includes a modified logo, and a toning down of the bright aesthetics of the 1980s and 1990s. This was in touch with the automobile industry's trend of using plainer, metallic paints. Despite some occasional poor paint choices, and an intriguing fixation with the silver grey, the style change has been successful.
Today, as part of the Simba-Dickie Toy Group, the Majorette 200 line continues to be made in Thailand and newer models are made in China. The distribution of Majorette via major retailers has been limited mainly to Europe, South America and Asia. Circa 2010, the Majorette lines offered today are standard "Singles" packaged in various ways, "Extractor" series (construction), "S.O.S." (ambulance and police format), "Trailers" - semi trucks and vehicles with trailers (basically the old 300 series), the "Farm" series of CLAAS tractors, "Motorcycles", "Rockerz" 4x4 Monster trucks, "Planes and Helicopters", the "Pinder" Circus series, liveried "Racing" vehicles and racing trucks with trailers. For 2012, nine new model castings have been announced.
The "Majo-Teams" offer vehicles of different sizes in different themes, and is reminiscent of offerings during the 1990s. Some of the castings, such as the 1980 Chevrolet 4-door Impala have been made continuously since the mid-1980s. Lastly, a new line of "Eco Tech" cars features electric, hybrid and other 'green' and environmentally friendly, but cool, vehicles.
Some new models were released later than originally expected, for example, the Nissan Murano, Fiat Panda and Mercedes-Benz SLK were due to be released in 2005, but they did not reach the market until Autumn 2006. Only 3 models due to be released in 2005 actually made it onto the market that year, and were reported by collectors to be 'very hard to find'.
About 2010, similar to Matchbox or Hot Wheels, Majorette was moving into plastic cars and trucks of larger sizes. One example from this new "Kids Mate" series was a Mini Cooper in about 1:20 scale. The car is very detailed and complete with all opening features, but all in plastic in a package with bright (but Majorette-like) red colors. Also in this series is a line of plastic, but appealing, trucks; a trash truck, a logging truck, and a container truck. This line seems a more commercial "toy" ground whereas Solido (also a Dickie company) has the 1:43 scale collectibles with Majorette offering the smaller 1:64 line as well.
The Majorette factory in Bangkok, Thailand was almost completely destroyed by heavy floods in the fall of 2011. Zinc injection molding equipment, nearly all plastic injection machines, and all mechanical equipment - needed to be replaced. Production at this facility was resumed by July 2012 with most of the 470 employees keeping their jobs. The total investment in this reconstruction was approximately €10 million (Simba-Dickie Group News 2012).
- Johnson, Dana. 1998. Collector's Guide to Diecast Toys", Second edition. Padukah, Kentucky: Collector's Books, a Division of Schroeder Publishing.
- Majorette website. 2013. Page for planes and helicopters available. 
- Militaires Solido Verem. 40 Years of History. Collector's website.
- Ragan, Mac. 2000. Diecast Cars of the 1960s. Osceola, Wisconsin: MBI Publishing Co. Enthusiast Color Series.
- Rampin, P. 2005. France in Miniature, 1900-1980.
- Richardson, Mike and Sue. 1999. Wheels: Christie's Presents the Magical World of Automotive Toys. San Francisco: Chronicle Books. ISBN 0-8118-2320-2
- Rixon, Peter. 2005. Miller's Collecting Diecast Vehicles. London: Miller's, A Division of Mitchell Beazley.
- Simba-Dickie Group News (Simba-Dickie gibt Jahresergebnis bekannt). 2012. Planned Investments and Activities (Geplante Investitionen und Maßnahmen). Nuremberg Toy Fair webpage. 
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Majorette.|