In 2008, The Little Tikes Company sold 457,000 Cozy Coupes, making it the best-selling car in America. It even edged out Toyota Camry sales by 20,000. In fact, over the past 30 years, children have taken joy rides in more than 10 million of the little plastic vehicles. Here’s the skinny on what keeps this classic rolling off assembly lines.
ONE MAN’S VISION
Back in 1947, when he was still in college, Jim Mariol was designing car parts for Chrysler when he realized that he wanted to create a look entirely his own. It took more than 30 years, but in 1979, he made that dream come true. Mariol teamed up with Little Tykes and pitched his idea for a toy car that kids could power with their feet, Fred Flintstone-style. (The inspiration came from rolling around his office in a desk chair.) Little Tykes loved the concept and, within four years, its total sales skyrocketed from $15 million to nearly $43 million. The company has been raking it in ever since.
ONE WORD: PLASTICS
Part of the secret behind the car’s longevity is a manufacturing process called rotational molding. A plastic polymer is poured into a hollow mold, which is then heated and spun in multiple directions. As the plastic cools, it solidifies into a tough, durable shell. This might seem like a tree-hugger’s nightmare, but the cars are made using Code 4 plastic, which is easy to recycle. (Just drive it to the curb!) Still, Cozy Coupes are so durable that most are reused the old-fashioned way—handed down from one generation of little drivers to the next.
PIMP MY KID’S RIDE
If you’re not into the classic red-and-yellow look, there are plenty of other options. In the early 1990’s sales for the Cozy Coupe dipped, so the company expanded its line to include fire trucks, police cars, convertibles, and the popular pink-and-purple “Princess Coupe.” But if the expanded line doesn’t do it for you, there’s also a growing subculture of parents who soup up their kids cars on weekends, adding custom paint jobs, plush interiors, and even LCD screens.
Last year, the 1979 model Cozy Coupe received a makeover for the 30th Anniversary Edition. It now comes equipped with cup holders and a handle on the roof, which parents can pull if the driver gets tuckered out. But the most obvious facelift is, well, a face. Two cartoon eyes and a toothy grin have been added to the hood. In June, the 1979 model and the 30th Anniversary Edition became part of the permanent collection of the Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum in Cleveland, taking their rightful place next to the Delorean, the Chevy Corvette, and the Model-T Ford.
The article above, written by Rob Lammle, appeared in the Jan - Feb 2010 issue of mental_floss magazine. It is reprinted here with permission.