Hot Wheels Will Never Be the Same, Thanks to NFC

Hot Wheels id cars and app, along with the Smart Track Kit

Hot Wheels just got a tech-centric makeover. Although the Mattel brand will continue making its standard car toys for the foreseeable future, today it launched a new generation: Hot Wheels id. These cars look like regular Hot Wheels but are equipped with an NFC tag and a companion app for tracking each vehicle’s stats in an unprecedented fashion. For kids ages 8 and up, the cars are $6.99 each.

Hot Wheels are still one of the world’s hottest-selling toys. But after 51 years, the brand is now fighting for the attention of an increasingly digital market. Hot Wheels id is how the company plans to stay in the fast lane.

Hot Wheels id NFC Tag

Look underneath a Hot Wheels id car and you’ll see something unique under its transparent chassis. It’s an NFC (short for near field communication) tag developed with the tech’s inventor, NXP. The tag uses a microchip and wireless radio communications to send data to a supporting mobile device within a few inches.

After downloading the free Hot Wheels id app, a kid can tap the car to a smartphone with NFC capabilities. The car’s info is then downloaded from the car to the phone, using the same tech used in Apple or Google Pay.

We saw this work effortlessly in a demo. Never were there frustrating connection problems, only a riveting revving noise as the car magically created a digital copy of itself, along with stats and profile info, like its release date and designer, on the app.

The NFC tag gives each Hot Wheel car a unique ID, like a VIN number, so children can track the car’s stats, like its fastest speed, best lap time, how many laps and miles its ever driven and how many races and app games it’s won. No more arguing over who’s best; now kids will have the numbers to prove it.

Currently, Mattel has 51 id cars planned to be released this year in six batches. The first batch features four real-life cars, the Corvette C7.R, Dodge (or Chrysler) SRT Viper GTS-R, 2016 Mercedes AMG GT and Aston Martin One-77, and some original designs, Howlin Heat, Motosaurus, Shark Hammer 2.0 and Arachnorod.

At $7 a pop, they’re more expensive than the average Hot Wheel (about $5.50, but some are cheaper and special editions are pricier). But in addition to the NFC tag, they also have special nickel-base paint job that promises a shinier, metallic finish coat. They also have a tiny inscription on their wheel that tell you the car’s series, and some also have extra flair, like tail and headlights and dinosaur textures.

Is It Safe?

No one wants Mattel watching their children. As such, the id cars adhere to COPPA, ESRB and GDPR standards. Hot Wheels also told us that all data collected is on the car, not the user, so Mattel won’t know who owns what cars or any other personal info.

“We chose NFC for a few reasons. It’s safe and secure so it can only be read within a very close distance. No one can read tags out in the wild, like with RFID chips. Also, it can withstand heat, water and weather,” a spokesperson told us. In fact, the cars are considered waterproof, although the metal can rust. Hot Wheels confirmed this by successfully scanning an id car that had been submerged in water for 5 months.

No NFC Device, No Problem

For those without an NFC-capable device, like some tablet users, there’s the Hot Wheels Race Portal ($39.99, includes an exclusive car). The portal connects to your device via Bluetooth and has an NFC reader and two infrared sensors for tracking cars’ speed. Hot Wheels claims the portal offers a “full day” of play and charges in an hour.

For the ultimate experience, Mattel also released the Smart Track Kit ($179.99), which includes the Race Portal and two exclusive cars, plus 16 track pieces that each has its own microcontroller and USB Type-A connector, so ultimately the app can see and render the track your child makes.

Adolescent speed demons will appreciate the Smart Track Kit’s booster, a giant, plastic blue button you smash for extra speed. Hot Wheels claims this is its fastest booster ever, and I can confirm cars flying off the track and forming a four-car pileup after I revved it up repeatedly and recklessly.

Hot Wheel id App Games

The Hot Wheels id app is a colorful world of racetrack whimsy, bringing augmented reality (AR) to the classic franchise. It certainly has what it takes to take Hot Wheels from an old school toy to a modern tech game with four different game modes (including free play), rewards for playing and, of course, the ability to share data on any Hot Wheels id car scanned.

This app also worked glitch-free, seamlessly, tracking real-life cars (even when boosted to nail-biting speeds) and adding lively, bright animation and sounds to make games more exciting, especially for the less imaginative.

Some of the AR games we saw include revving a real-life car fast enough so its virtual copy could destroy all the blocks in a game. There’s also the more simple Speed Meter game, which shows you the speed of your car when you pass it through the portal.

Does This Mean Good-Bye to ‘Regular’ Hot Wheels?

Hot Wheels says it will release more id cars every year, and in the long-term it does see every Hot Wheel car having the features of its id cars. But that will take a long time, as many 20 years, we heard (the company does make 130 new car designs annually, after all).

In the meantime, Mattel will continue making the (generally) lower-priced NFC-free cars while also finding ways to grow its id line.

“It’s still a toy. … That really matters in how we developed this, and we have a long-term roadmap to continue to invest in making them even more accessible and more ubiquitous just like our regular Hot Wheels cars are,” the spokesperson said.

For those still not sold on the pricing, and id car may be more of a steal than you think, considering the most expensive Hot Wheel ever sold was a Beach Bomb prototype for $72,000.

Hot Wheels id Specs

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Hot Wheels id Car ($6.99)NFC tag: NXP NTAG
Hot Wheels id Race Portal ($39.99)NFC reader; Bluetooth Low Energy; 2x infrared sensors; 4MB on-board memory; Rechargeable 500 mA lithium polymer battery with NXP Power Management; Includes: 2x exclusive Hot Wheels id car
Hot Wheels Smart Track Kit ($179.99)16x track pieces with microcontroller; 1x Booster microcontroller; LED light; 2x infrared sensors; Molded ABS plastic; Includes: 2x exclusive Hot Wheels id cars, 1x Hot Wheels Race Portal
Hot Wheels id App (free)iOS: Available now; Android: Available on Amazon Prime Day

Photo Credits: Tom's Hardware

Scharon Harding

Scharon Harding has a special affinity for gaming peripherals (especially monitors), laptops and virtual reality. Previously, she covered business technology, including hardware, software, cyber security, cloud and other IT happenings, at Channelnomics, with bylines at CRN UK.

  • AnimeMania
    I don't see why Hot Wheels couldn't also sell NFC tag stickers to place on your existing Hot Wheels cars and let you input your own data about the vehicle or pull it up from a Hot Wheels cars database. This would be a great way for people to keep track of their existing collection. Selling new cars is nice, but the track that tracks the NFC tags and transfers the data to your smart phone seems to be the more interesting innovative parts.