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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, November 22, 2002

Micro cars are 'hottest things in town'

By Will Hoover
Advertiser Staff Writer

James Opiana, sales associate at RadioShack on King Street, holds a Porsche 911 Turbo ZipZaps micro car, one of several models selling out as fast as they arrive.

Cory Lum • The Honolulu Advertiser

They're the hottest little things in town: 2-inch remote-controlled cars that are zipping off store shelves in Hawai'i.

"We're just selling them so fast we can't keep them in the showroom," said Gary Hashimoto, store manager at RadioShack at Pearlridge Uptown. "I'd say we've sold close to a thousand since September in this store alone. They come in, and they go right out."

These miniature vehicles are known as micro RCs or micro cars.

The phenomenon began in Japan a little more than a year ago but didn't reach the U.S. Mainland until shortly before summer with a half-dozen different brands led by Bit Char-G, made by Tomy of Japan.

They remained the domain of a relative handful of aficionados until September when RadioShack introduced ZipZaps micro RCs. Then in October, basketball superstar Shaquille O'Neal played with ZipZaps in a World Series ad, and the masses were hooked.

"Kids go nuts over them," said Peter Tabilang, Hawai'i District sales manager for RadioShack. "But, frankly, so do adults. I have the whole line of them myself."

Tabilang said the company has had a tough time keeping ZipZaps in stock, partly because of the recent work stoppage at West Coast ports. Mostly, though, it has been because the things are so popular.

The price range for micro RCs starts at about $10 and goes to around $100 or more, not counting accessories. And accessories are where micro RCs can begin to put a real dent in your wallet.

ZipZaps' radio-controlled micro cars are popular among Hawai'i's keiki — and adults. A shipment of 300 cars sold out in three days.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

Bit Char-G cars can be bought at Toys n' Joys in Kaimuki for $39, said Jason Ng, retail manager.

Upgraded motors, gear and suspension kits and different body designs go for $9.95 to $14.95.

Ng said because his shop has good connections in Japan, he's been able to keep the miniature vehicles in stock, but it hasn't been easy.

"I think this is going to really sell well for us this Christmas," he said.

ZipZaps go for $19.99 each, but for twice the torque, an additional $12.99 will buy you The Fast and The Furious supercharger upgrade. There are all sorts of other add-ons, modifications and enhancements, such as a $1.99 set of miniature orange traffic cones or $4.99 teensy-weensy tool kits.

A salesclerk at Daiei on Kaheka Street said the store was sold out of the toy, but he expected more to be coming soon. Hashimoto said his Pearlridge store doesn't have a single ZipZaps vehicle left in the place.

RadioShack's Ala Moana outlet received a shipment yesterday that included the ever-popular black Honda and red Porsche. On Maui, a clerk at RadioShack at Queen Ka'ahumanu Center in Kahului said a shipment of 300 ZipZaps sold out in three days.

"These are the hottest things in town," said Helena Hsu, sales associate at RadioShack's King Street store, which recently received a shipment of the matchbox-sized motor vehicles. "Hondas are the biggest seller — this is Hawai'i, after all."

Bill Elgin of Cypress, Calif., operates the Micro RC Resource Center, a Web page devoted to micro RC cars.

"I think they must have underestimated the market," Elgin said. "That's probably why they keep selling out of the things. Right now just getting your hands on them is the thing. Whatever is out there sells."

ZipZaps operate on two AAA batteries and can hold a charge for around four minutes. They have a 20-foot range, which can be doubled if you're smart enough to know how to perform the modification.

Micro RCs can only be raced with vehicles that operate on different frequencies, and, unfortunately, most micro RCs, such as ZipZaps, have only two frequencies, Elgin said.

He said micro RC quality varies, particularly with knock-off clones, but all the major brands are well made. However, most brands have a limited range and drive time and serve as starter kits for those who eventually move on to the higher-end micro RCs — such as The Epoch Indoor Racer, a 4-inch micro RC doozy that Elgin said is his pick for best micro RC on the market.

"It has an outstanding range," Elgin said. "Instead of 20 feet, its range is 140 feet. Plus, Epoch Indoor Racers can run on up to 12 different frequencies, meaning you can have up to a dozen cars racing each other instead of only two."

Of course, at up to $90 a vehicle, a dozen Epoch Racers will set the most passionate micro RC enthusiast back more than $1,000 — not counting accessories, of course.

Reach Will Hoover at whoover@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8038.