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Interview with AFV Club/ Hobby Fan

Left to Right: Jeff, Mr. Tserng (AFV Club/Hobby Fan president), Author.

This is part one of a two-part interview. Part two can be found here.

The AFV Club/Hobby Fan headquarters, hidden away in a non-descript office building in Taipei, is not what you might expect. It is a warm, family-like atmosphere. I squeeze past stacks of kit boxes and diorama display cases to be greeted by Jeff, the bespectacled designer, builder, and “Jack-of-all-Trades.” There are no suits or ties here, the 10 employees working quietly at their benches piled high with kit boxes and reference photos. I’m led to Mr. Tseung’s office, containing display cases of every Hobby Fan/AFV Club model, as well as many others the president has built himself.

Have you always been a hobbyist? Did you build kits as a kid, too?
Mr. Tserng , AFV Club: I remember well the first kit that started it all: the Tamiya Centurion. I was a kid scrounging to save-up enough for that kit. At that time in Taiwan, it was an expensive thing, and money was not easy to come by. I still keep up with the current kits being produced: armor, aircraft, ships, by building them all.

At this point, he leads me into room after room filled with display cases of all the models he has built over the years: from the classic Tamiya kits of yesteryear, to modern aircraft, naval subjects, and everything in between.

How did this journey all begin?
AFV Club: I originally opened a model shop, stocking the usual products: Tamiya, Hasegawa, and the like. At that time, modeling was still a very popular hobby -before the advent of video games. I was never satisfied with the products of the mainstream manufacturers. Tamiya, for example, released its Famo and Churchill kits...and then never followed them up with any other variants. I asked, “Why?” It seemed that the big companies never produced a kit that I, as a hobbyist, really wanted to build.

What was the first kit ever produced by AFV Club?
AFV Club: The 1/35th scale M730A1 Chaparral. At the time, I thought, “What could be more interesting than an armored fighting vehicle mounting Stinger missiles?" Nobody had thought to produce a kit anything like it. At that time, there were some Chaparral units stationed at a base nearby ; the first AFV Club kit was born, and the rest is history. In the beginning, all the subjects I could research had to be vehicles used by the ROC (Republic of China, Taiwan) Army, or based in Taiwan. During that time, the late 1980s, Taiwan was still under martial law, so access to subjects outside of Taiwan was not possible. Getting good reference material for any subject is still the biggest challenge, even today. We often enlist the help of friends and colleagues visiting various museums around the world to get us reference photos.

What has been your biggest seller of all time?
AFV Club: The M102 105mm Howitzer. It’s always been a popular subject, used by many nations. It’s an easy build, and a fairly simple, but detailed, kit.

Sometimes I want a nice, easy kit that won’t take six months to build. Do you have any fairly simple kits that an average hobbyist can put together in a couple of weekends?
AFV Club: The 1/35th scale British Scimitar. It’s such an enjoyable little kit to build, but extremely detailed. Not complicated, but a very popular kit.

It would seem that DML Dragon would be your biggest competitor right now. Would you say that’s true?
AFV Club: This business is very competitive. I would characterize the competition between AFV Club and Dragon as the ongoing war between Taiwan and China. It has happened more than once that a competitor has got wind of a kit we plan to produce, and tried to beat us to it –our future plans have to be kept under the utmost secrecy. Tamiya and Dragon are huge companies- that’s true. They can afford to spend lots on advertising. I don’t think, however, that they know or care what their customers –hobbyists, really want to see. For Tamiya, the radio control market is their bread and butter; they aren’t catering to the average armor hobbyist. Dragon continues to produce kit after kit that leaves the builder with a half box of unused parts left-over at the end, and instruction sheets that are unclear. Why? I don’t think the presidents of either of those huge companies would ever take the time to meet with and listen to an average hobbyist/customer, as I’m doing with you today.

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About Ted Hayward (ted_hayward)
FROM: TAIPEI, TAIWAN / 台灣

From B.C., Canada. Living in Taiwan for past several years. I've been building kits for as long as memory serves -armor, aircraft, cars. Big fan of 1/16th scale armor kits. Currently serving as poster boy for working with CA adhesives in a well-ventilated area. My first kit was the positively awful ...