Clone Wars — RC Style

First, let’s accurately define clone. A clone isn’t a product that lacks originality or a rebadged product. An RC clone is a direct copy. One step further, a pure clone will have part-for-part interchangeability. There are some “gray area” clones where the design looks identical, but certain changes prevent a mass amount of interchangeability or some parts have been copied directly from the original but not all.

Why do clones exist? Because people buy them. Let’s face it, RC can be a fairly expensive hobby. It costs less than, say, golf or a snowmobile, but it costs a whole lot more than shooting hoops or even a set of Rollerblades (does anybody still do that?). So, while it may be somewhere in the middle, we can agree that RC isn’t exactly cheap. A good RC car costs a decent amount of money. Clones, however, are cheaper–often times significantly cheaper. Consumers, looking to save money on the big ticket stuff, support the clone business model. If you want to add a 1/5-scale to your stable, the difference between getting one or not may very well be going with a clone or not. The same scenario may be true for someone getting started in the hobby. A clone of a popular short course truck may be at a low enough price point that the purchase can be made.

So, what’s the harm? I was going to start the sentence that follows this one with “I think we all know . . . ” but maybe we don’t all know. The harm comes in the form of the long-term health of the manufacturers who make the originals. They invest in the research and design. From the initial concept to the prototype stage to the making of final molds (and making sure the molds work), they make a considerable investment. This part of the process is a substantial part of their overall overhead. The cloners essentially completely forgo that part. Next, the originators spend substantially more money on marketing than the clone companies. The originators make the investment that makes the product desirable. Again, while there is some sort of marketing pushing the clones, they do not make nearly the same type of investment the originators do.

Here’s the deal: the clones obviously cut into the profits of the originators and severely hampers how much of a return on their investment they can achieve–if they can achieve any at all. Worst case, companies will go out of business. Clones can hurt a business enough that downsizing and layoffs occur. That’s pretty serious. At the very least, clones slow down the hobby. Huh?

Clones slow down the hobby because in order for companies to get a viable return on their investment while competing with clones of their own products, they have to get as many miles out of a platform as possible. Developing something new is the most expensive part of the business, so when clones cut into the return on investment, companies have to adapt, change their business model and ultimately slow down the rate they release new platforms.

This is all somewhat ironic since so many hobbyists absolutely clamor for innovation. Hobbyists demand and expect innovation. There is a sense of entitlement. When a new vehicle comes out that isn’t all-new, the complaints fly. While increased competition and a slow economy play major roles, the acceptance of clones by a large number of consumers really makes it hard for a company to release all-new products at the pace consumers seem to believe they should. You’re hurting yourselves, people.

OH THE HYPOCRISY
I have my own clone confession to make. My first RC vehicle–bought in the 80’s–was a clone. After seeing some 1/12-scale on-road cars running on a flat oval, I wanted in on the hobby. I went to a hobby store and came home with an electric off-road buggy. I was thrilled. I didn’t realize it was a clone (or that clones even existed) until the same hobby shop sold me Tamiya replacement parts every time I broke a part. The stock parts were like glass compared to the Tamiya pieces, so it didn’t take me long to realize the difference in quality even though the parts looked identical. Needless to say, that was my first and last clone.

So, there’s the lowdown on clones which are a very real and increasing part of the hobby. What’s your take on the subject? Is the temptation just too much to resist or are you firmly anti-clone?

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Matt Higgins About the Author:

Matt has over 25 years of experience in RC and has worked professionally in media for over a decade. Matt enjoys everything from racing to rock crawling to bashing, and he believes RC should be all about having fun. Matt is as at home covering a world championship in an exotic country as he is showing a new hobbyist how to set gear mesh. His desire to share the hobby with as many people as possible inspired him to create RC Truck Stop and RCTruckStop.com.

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  1. Matthew Lane says:

    Interesting article Matt! Thanks for sharing AND enlightening all of us. I sure didn’t know about clones till now. I will do my best to uphold my purchases to the highest quality possible. In other words, I will do my research!!! Thanks, again Matt, for all you do for us!!!!!

  2. Aaron Snare says:

    My addition to everything you said, after being in the hobby since the early 90s and being a hobby shop manager. I’ve seen people start off with a clone, most recently the hip Baja truck Clone. I think he still paid 800 for it, he was always breaking parts, every time he fired it it broke. Not only did he wind up spending his cost difference in genuine repair parts. He was completely turned off of the hobby because of the extremely bad experience. He assumed that all r/c’s were going yo be that fragile and a total waste and sold it for s huge loss and will likely never try again…..

    • Matt Higgins Matt Higgins says:

      You are 100% right. I can tell you from my own experience. I bought a clone unaware and ended up spending way more in the long run. I literally replaced every single part. I even quickly learned that when one part broke to just go ahead and replace every part that came on the genuine parts tree.

  3. Sam Tyndall says:

    You are right on the money, Matt. As in other aspects of life, “you get what you pay for” rings true at least 95% of the time. I’ve never bought a clone RTR per se, but I do tend to build custom trial rigs and it’s always smart to buy components which are known to hold up to abuse. Let’s face it, unless we are building shelf queens, our trucks get pounded hard almost all of the time in the name of fun.
    I’m sure the scenario Aaron Snare presented is happening many times over and that is unfortunate for the hobby and for people just wanting to have fun.

  4. Rich Krabbe says:

    Great article, I’m an old guy that has never lost the addiction for RC’s since 1982. I turned a hobby into business many years ago and have seen trends come and go. 1/5 scale is slowly on the rise and I feel that the “clone wars” have a lot to do with it. Most young people cannot afford $1200 to $1600 to get into 1/5 scale but the clones open that door for them and get them going. Most of my customers have been starting with clones but eventually go brand name. The clones are also good for business not only for guys like me who sell, build and repair 1/5 scales but for the brands that are being cloned because we use their parts to repair or hop up these poor clones. You know I always tell people to research clones before you buy,they aren’t all junk. Your article was correct about how many parts actually interchange, some clone brands wont interchange. Thanks for giving everyone a straight forward and informative article not bashing nor promoting “clones”, letting everyone form their own opinions. My Facebook page (Amp’d-RC) is all about education about products and how to’s and yes we feature clone tests and brand names. This month we I did “missing pieces” a clone built Baja that broke a control arm the first jump…the journey can be challenging, but fun! thanks again.

  5. Shivike says:

    There is only Axial!

  6. Tim O'Connor says:

    You are 100% right. I have been in the hobby since 1980’s and around 1996 I bought a gas monster truck clone. It never ran right, ever! Everything broke, and the engine sucked. I have never purchased a gas rc again based on that experience. I guess that is how the classification of “hobby quality” we all, who know, use so often to exclude the knock off junk. I buy Traxxas and Tamiya all the time as they never dissapoint. Great articles by the way!

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