Micro-Trains Changes for MTL Z scale

markm Nov 28, 2019

  1. markm

    markm TrainBoard Supporter

    I don't know if anyone has noticed it, but MTL is changing their order policy for Z scale:


    I don't fully understand this announcement but my take on it is that starting in 2020 I will have to pre-order, presumably with a deposit, product that may or may not be produced, to ship sometime after 6 months.

    I'm afraid that delays in recently announced products and in particular the multiple delays of the SP SD-40, does not give me much confidence of future performance.

  2. husafreak

    husafreak TrainBoard Member

    I don't like the part where they say if there are a lack of preorders the run may be cancelled. As a vehicle to guage interest and the correct number of trains to produce it makes some sense. But it is a pretty big change! What happens to our dealers? Do they have to pre-order so as to have stock on hand? But then how can they guess how many they can sell, after the pre-order buyers are fulfilled? I'm guessing in the end there would be less over stock but also less sales period with this method.
  3. rray

    rray Staff Member

    To be honest, I feel that MTL has "Filled the Pipeline" with their current cars, and new paintschemes really don't help much. I have maybe 300-400 MTL cars, many NP duplicates to be re-numbered someday, but how many cars with the same molded on roofwalks, and tankers with the same molded on ladder detail do I need (I have about 30 MTL tank cars).

    To get me to buy more, I need something different. I don't know, let me throw something out there. If they built a replacement boxcar roof with seperately applied etched stainless roofwalks, and a cradle jig so I can slip my boxcar shell inside, then easily sand off the old roof details flat to apply the new roof, I would buy 50 kits. Hint: Boxcar superdetail kit with etched stainless grabs, roofwalks, and ladders.

    If they made a PS2 superdatail kit with openable hatches, ladders, and etched stainless roofwalks,... And the tank car, maybe a detail kit for it with a better marklin type platform and ladders that hide the old ones.

    They keep doing cars like a passenger business car that IF your railroad had one, they only had ONE, instead of making a superdetailed new ice reefer car with opening ice hatches and seperatly applied etched stainless grabs and ladders. The N Scalers demanded detail, why not Z Scalers?

    Look at the two cars below in this "Fair Use" photo for example: The top one is the Z Scale version of a weatherc car. The paintjob is exquisite, however, as they say, "a pig in lipstick is still a pig". Now look at the bottom car. Notice the same exquisite paintjob, but the car is actually an N Scale car with a seperately applied roofwalk that you can see light through, and notice how much finer the molded on detail is. When I seen the bottom car, but labeled as a Z Scale car, I thought MTL must have released a new updated carbody, so I immediately added the car to my cart, then went through all the past couple years worth of releases, and looked for more with that level of detail. I cound not find one, so I came to the conclusion it was an N Scale car represented as a Z Scale car, and emptied my cart, as I don't want any more bogus roof cars that I have to sand off.

    So my point is, it seems MTL must be getting feedback from hobby shops that inventory must be piling up. I seen one online shop has the 40' wood reefers in stock, where only 27 out of 79 monthly releases are sold out going back to 2011. Most of the 2011, 2012, and 2013 cars are sold out, but after that, the pipeline was filled, and sales started slowing, and cars started piling up from the monthly releases.

    So it seems for a while at least, changing the business model is in order. No sense forcing your hobby shops to accept each monthly order that they cannot sell out of. If that were to continue, the hobby shops would all close down. Weatherd cars certianly helped the situation, but eventually everyone has a hundred car train of weathered cars, and don't need any more. The bottom line is they need to offer something different... again.

    So, knowing that a specific car or loco will only sell so many units before the pipeline is filled regardless of paintscheme, and that it takes about 7-10 years before an out of production model will actually be completely sold out, the buisness model needs to change. I don't have the difinative answer, and MTL probably don't either. One thing I do know, is something new, updated, or different will sell. What would I do? Try different things.

    One thing I would try is to go to my old molded roofwalk boxcar tooling, cut the top of the mold off, and make a slide with finer roof detail, and re-release an updated boxcar with etched stainless details in long sold out popular paint schemes. In fact each and every new release I did, would be updated relative to the old tooling, even if only a little bit.

    Another thing, is I would try to produce a diesel locomotive mechinism that the wheelbase could be adjusted by sliding it shorter or longer, and have one mechanism that would work for lots of different locomotives. The thing about locomotives is, after a while of running, they all break down, start to run balky and jerky and you end up buying another. If you had a one mechanism fits all, you could sell just the mechanism and driving trucks to modelers to repair theirs, as well as produce lots of new loco body styles.

    And lastly, continue to update manufacturing technology. Laser kits and solvent jet printed weathering is great. How about adding resin 3d printed details to the mix. If you keep the details low, you can print a lot of parts in a short period of time.

    I'm talking about things like release a weathered boxcar with an opened door, a pile of crates, and a hobo or two riding inside. Or a weathered caboose with a brakeman standing on the end platform. Or a wooden boxcar bunkhouse conversion sitting on railroad ties, with the sliding door replaced with a 3d printed door, and a guy walking up the stairs, and one of the N Scale caboose smokejacks on the roof.

    I would just keep trying different things mixing and matching of laser cut, 3D printed, injection molded, and solvent jet printed stuff. Take the old cast metal 40' flatcar, put laser cut handrails on it, and a 3d printed 60's station wagon driving across the flatcar bridge as a scene. We don't have a Woodland Scenics of Z Scale, and one time releases of lifelike scenes could benifit the scale. Just make production ground rules like it must be able to be assembles and painted fast, and the 3D resin parts made must not take more than X amount of time for Y quantity, so keep the part height low enough. The resin parts are fragile, so always place them deep enough in the scene that stronger laser cut, resin, or injection molded parts protect them in the scene being produced.

    The point being, a business model that needs to be adjusted can be adjusted by several ways... abandon the scale altogether, reduce releases bygoing to a pre-order system and pray the business don't completely fall off, updating old tooling and adapting to mix modern manufacturing technology with older technology to create new and previously unavailable limited production items, possible with better margins. I would hope to see the latter.
  4. EMD F7A

    EMD F7A TrainBoard Member

    I’m all in for the “new business model” theory. Honestly, I understand why they produce in piecemeal but I’m thinking what if they pivoted and took a step toward the most successful N scale business model; KATO?

    Start producing complete passenger train sets. I mean locomotive, cars, everything. Get your paint colors right, and keep your “half the cost of AZL” current strategy, and folks might start lining up to check out Z scale. The current business model (MTL and others) caters to a (very) long-term collector, but offers nearly squat to the “I’m just getting started” crowd, which is exactly what this hobby needs right now. New modelers.

    Imagine MTL with a dozen complete track starter & expansion sets like Rokuhan offers (which sell well and work well), and right next to it on the shelf is a MTL Union Pacific COLA or Streamliner with eight cars, two locos and a nice presentation box. Ready-to-Run. Maybe even aN NP train, or a nice NYC consist. The compete sets sell well in every other scale (especially N), and having worked at an LHS and gotten many people into the hobby? They almost always want a complete starter solution, not half of a set plus “go check eBay”. That doesn’t ignite interest!

    It’s just too tedious waiting fourteen months to build a twelve car train! In a commerce climate built around “I want it now”, how could it make sense to just produce portions of a train or one little handful of locos every couple years? Nobody can just go out and buy a complete consist unless they go to AZL, and AZL doesn’t produce enough trains at a price low enough to be the KATO of Z scale. So that’s the opening, that’s what could grow this scale.
    rray likes this.
  5. husafreak

    husafreak TrainBoard Member

    This may be a little off topic but I think MTL could spark sales just by supplying their cars with metal wheels. Last week I bought my first MTL loco (SD40-2) and a handful of cars at a LHS going out of business sale. I put them on my 195/220r test track and had a lot of trouble with derailing cars all over the loops and switches. Rokuhan track. So last night I sat down and replaced the plastic wheels with Will's on all of the MTL cars I have (about 10, please don't laugh!). Suddenly everything is fine. Even the annoying slinky effect I had attributed to the MTL coupler design seemed to go away. I happily ran my trains for a couple of hours. I submit that the stock MTL plastic wheels are the biggest problem in Z right now.
    EMD F7A, rray and bostonjim like this.
  6. husafreak

    husafreak TrainBoard Member

    I also think supplying a "builders series" of cars would be very popular. Those of us who like to build and paint would go crazy for that. Supply a plain primer grey car. A sheet of etched brass parts, a decal sheet, a link to pictures of the actual cars on the internet. Metal wheels? On the scale that MTL works at it might make sense, after printing out thousands of decal sheets and etched brass sheets wouldn't they become pretty inexpensive?
    EMD F7A, rray and bostonjim like this.

    ZFRANK TrainBoard Member

    When Rokuhan released a German electric locomotive I was hoping that they would also start producing US prototype rolling stock... At least the Rokuhan Shorty helped getting z scale a switcher from Z-Maker! Also Märklin did not continue after releasing the Azl E7/E8. Hopefully MTL continues at least producing their magne matic couplers so we can convert Azl rolling stock to make it compatible for switching operation. Right now Azl is the only serious z brand we have.

    Verstuurd vanaf mijn ANE-LX1 met Tapatalk
    EMD F7A and rray like this.
  8. marmot

    marmot TrainBoard Supporter

    I'm a member of the "I'm just getting started" crowd in Z within the last year. In defense of MTL on that point, they do currently have 15 sets of small but complete trains, each offered with or without track, and the preferred MRC 1300 DC controller modified for Z scale is offered on the same web page as all of those train sets. https://www.micro-trains.com/index.php?_route_=z-scale/train-sets-1987405429
    In my opinion, that's fantastic for newbies! I was looking for exactly that web page several months ago. I don't know if I just couldn't find that page or if they recently added that.
    bostonjim and EMD F7A like this.
  9. EMD F7A

    EMD F7A TrainBoard Member

    I suppose I could have then just a bit more clear, as I do agree that they have a great selection of freight, but their passenger selection is abhorrent. Not just in the sporadic lease in complete sets, but in the overall lack of availability at any given time.

    And really, doesn't this seem silly for the scale that allows us to run the most prototypical length passenger trains in any given space? I love some of their products but he caters to the long-term collector, and that's not what the market needs right now. If you go to any train show, literally any train show, great train expo, greatest hobby or Greenberg or whatever it is, you will see an influx of families and children & even young adults That we didn't have in the past. When I saw this on the retail side And discussed it With them, the Most common explanation was that those families and young people are getting bored of electronic toys & they want something they can put their hands on!

    So freight tabletop sets are a good start. Passenger is a YUGE portion of this hobby and is neglected by MTL as of yet.

    AZL really makes that clear, with their stunning complete consists available in over a dozen roadnames and styles right now. If they had the retail presence MTL has, it would be a game changer.
    bostonjim likes this.
  10. Commodore

    Commodore TrainBoard Member

    Thanks for the rant! I too am pulling for American production.

    EMD F7A is correct about MTL needing complete passenger car sets. AZL is doing a good job following that market.

    I do prefer MTL paint and pad printing. I've waited years to complete their Amtrak, UP, ATSF, SP and GN passenger sets. Glad I did. MTL cars can be easily upgraded!

    MTL needs to set up a custom shop like Fender guitar. They already have the talent!
    EMD F7A, Kurt Moose and bostonjim like this.

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