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Model Rail Forum recently met up with George Smith, the General Manager of Dapol. With Dapol flying the flag for British model railway manufacturing, their recent introduction of an N gauge range of locomotives and rolling stock has been very well received. George was happy to talk about the development of the N gauge range and future plans for Dapol.

    Interview by    
    Gary Leigh    
    December 2005    
  Dapol have made a big move into N gauge and modellers have welcomed this. Have you anything interesting to say about your locomotives?  
  When we decided to enter the N gauge market we had an advantage; it was that nobody within the company had ever made or even had experience in the 1:148 scale. Therefore we were in total control of our own destiny. There was nobody who could say "you can't do that" or "we tried that in 1982 and it didn't work". We didn't know that you shouldn't be able to put individual metal pipes around the body of a 14xx.  We just did it and, when the model was released and customers  started to say "you have moved the boundaries of N gauge" we didn't know how to respond - because we didn't know that there were any 'boundaries'. I always remember my old university lecturer telling me "never believe anything anybody tells you until you have checked it yourself" and this is exactly what I did with our products. For instance at the start of the project everyone was telling us "you must always use 5 pole motors". My response was "Why?".

I toured around as many motor manufacturers as possible with a specification sheet and 3 facts became clear; 1) Motor technology was a constantly changing marketplace. 2) Motors were only as good as the gearing used to transmit the power to the wheels. 3) To go 'small'  you had to embrace new  products.  So, when we made our 14xx locomotive we used a Mabuchi 'Can' micro-motor that they actually specify for the aerospace industry. To date, having released over 9000 14xx models, we have had precisely 17 motor failures! I even sent one to a customer who works in an engineering department at Leicester University as he wanted to run checks on its compatibility with DCC systems. He responded by saying that it "passed all tests" and was fully compatible with DCC.

When we released our first 'modern image' loco, the class 73, everyone commented about the quality of motor and smoothness of operation. Even the guys who said "see, we told you that the motor had to be 5 pole" were impressed. The remarkable thing was that we didn't use a 5 pole motor! We used a low-torque 3 pole motor through high specification gearboxes. Q.E.D.

In terms of the chassis we made one clear decision. We would make the smallest we could and, if it was workable, then everything else (being bigger) would be achievable. We actually started with a 0-4-0 Pug but we found that the wheelbase was about 1.5mm too small to bridge the frog at points and therefore it was subject to an unacceptable power loss. The next was the 0-4-2 14xx and the rest, as they say, is history. It was easy to then make our 0-6-0 45xx and the recently released 0-4-4 M7 was a natural progression. The Ivatt Tank that we will release at Warley 2006 will eventually be modified into the Loco + Tender version and which will then give us enough knowledge to develop a whole range of 'Tender' locomotives.

However, and for the record, it is our policy NOT to remake any locomotive that is or has been available within the N gauge market.
  And your N gauge coaches?  
  We wanted to offer something different that would provide modellers with flexibility. Dapol coaches are easily disassembled and this permits modellers to modify them in any way they want. This was a design decision that we made. The roof is a loose fit and the glazing and bogies are easily removed leaving just the coach body. Our new Collett coaches have been well received and are a nice match for the new Peco Collett loco due out in 2006. We have already announced that Stanier Coaches will be released at Warley 2006.  
  And your N gauge wagons?  
  The range of Dapol wagons currently offered is a very good match for our locomotives. At Warley we announced 4 brand new wagons for the 2006 period. Again the new wagons recently released have been well received and we are in now in a position to offer limited edition wagons to N gauge modellers. If anybody reading this has an idea for a limited edition private owner wagon then they are welcome to contact Dapol and we can talk!  
  What about track and accessories. Do you see Dapol offering a complete package for N gauge modellers?  
  It is pointless duplicating the products of others as the N gauge market in the UK is not yet large enough to support this. So the answer is nothing planned yet!  
  Moving on to your kit range, which are the former Airfix and Kitmaster products. Given that your kits are similar to those produced by those icons of kit collectors are you surprised that Airfix and Kitmaster kits command large premiums in the collector market when yours are readily available?  
  Collectors being collectors then the packaging probably has more value than the contents. I would just remind those who remember Airfix and Kitmaster kits that we do offer identical products and they are remarkable value! When you think about it, it is remarkable that we still use the original tools. Whilst we do constantly maintain and repair them it is always a surprise when they keep on working! It just goes to show the quality of engineering 40+ years ago. One interesting thing to point out about our kit range is that they are a "green" product. We have a plastic recycling facility at Dapol and all plastic waste from our other products goes into our kits. The kits are not colour critical but keen observers may have noted that the shade does vary from batch to batch. Now you know why! Furthermore, and going off at a tangent, we are proud to advise that Dapol operates a 100% plastic usage policy and that nothing is thrown-away. Whenever we have plastic that cannot be reused it is sent to a reprocessing plant near Chester which makes the circular plastic tubes that surrounds newly-planted trees.  
  Dapol have built up a certain following for their limited edition wagons and you have now extended the range of wagons that are available as subjects that may be utilised. How is it that you enjoy the success with these that others donít?  
  Quite simply, because we are based in the UK, we have total control over our factory and the production. We are not limited by the need or demand for say, minimum quantities of 500 ot 750 or even 1000 units like our competitiors. Neither are we restricted by having a factory based in another continent. We appreciate and understand the demands of the market and that 100 units is perfectly adequate for both customers and Dapol alike. The policy clearly works due to the amount of product that passes through our factory every week. Indeed, we even have a customer who makes very good living out of selling nothing but Dapol limited edition wagons. He does local research and each year offers around 16 limited edition wagons to his customers that we produce for him. He has local knowledge of his region and of the types of wagons that are of interest to his customers.
  Anybody (even Model Rail Forum!) can come to us and order a limited edition wagon. Wagons have been produced as gifts for wedding parties and for corporate events. We will provide an image that permits the customer to advertise the wagon and take orders and 8-12 weeks after the order has been taken the wagons are delivered to the customer. Normally the wagons are pretty much sold out by the time the customer receives the order! If anybody wishes to set up a business selling limited edition wagons relating to their region of the country then we can certainly help with the supply of the wagons. What we do not do is keep an official record of limited edition wagons made and so we are unable to respond to requests for lists of these. Our website does provide information relating to recent wagons that have been released or are planned.  
  Following on from the Pendolino do you have any plans to extend the range of OO gauge locomotive and DMU/EMU subjects?  
  Definitely not! The Pendolino was the right model at the right time and we have learnt a lot from the production of this model. We may well make another  Pendolino batch but fellow OO gauge manufacturers can sleep easy at night (for the moment)! We would prefer to commit future resources into N gauge products.  
  How do you react to the sort of feedback you see published on the Internet these days?  
  Railway modellers are getting exceptional value these days and if they understood how much it costs to develop a new model and how Dapol have to compromise with the materials that we are working with then it would be seen that we are working miracles! If a new loco costs £100,000 to develop we have to sell 10000 examples to recover £10 of the development cost across each loco. And this is without production costs and packaging.
  With N gauge we have to consider such things as plastic thickness and even paint thickness and whether to use plastic or metal for detailing parts and how best to represent detail within a model and give it strength so that modellers can remove a body without damaging it. We do the best job we can with the materials that are available and the fact that 99.9% of our customers purchase again and again suggests Dapol are doing something right!  
  As with all businesses, you truly cannot please everybody all of the time and sometimes, criticism for nothing more than criticism's sake does make everybody feel 'down'. We really do try our best to make something that gives pleasure to the buyer and we don't make products under a 'that's wrong but let it go' policy.  However you cannot loose sight of the fact that what we make is 'The best possible representation' and NOT 'An exact copy'. As an example, we recently released our Dogfish wagon. The top leading edge of the body is actually 0.92mm wide. For it to be an exact 'copy' size it should be 0.28mm. However at 0.28mm the model looses its structure integrity and the edge bends out of shape. We undertook extensive model tests and changes and the size we now use is the absolute minimum that can be attained to produce the model. Despite the model having probably the finest level of detail and decoration and a maximum retail price of about £9.00 (without VAT) the moaners have already started with "the top is not accurate". Come on guys, give us a break! You will think nothing of going our for a curry that costs you £10.00 and by the next morning is nothing more than indigestion, and yet for about the same cost, something that will probably last you 20 years is criticised.  
  How do you determine the choice of liveries and subjects for your N gauge locomotive models?  
  Basically we look for gaps in the market. The British outline market is not yet a big market. It is much bigger in the USA and where runs of 10000 identical models will sell. If we did a run of 10000 models of an EWS Class 66 loco then 9000 would be left on the shelf. The ideal loco for a UK outline model manufacturer is one that has lots of liveries and was produced in large numbers. This lends itself to a number of limited production runs. The Class 66 for example is an ideal loco and every Dapol model will have a production run of just 250. As a manufacturer with a factory in Britain we have the flexibility to do this.  
  There has been a lot of interest in your new 2006 catalogue. Can you deliver all that you promise?  
  Yes! We will deliver our new models on time and as scheduled in our catalogue. This is the benefit of manufacturing in the UK. I believe we are the only one of the big manufacturer who can promise this. This enables our customers to plan their spending throughout the year.  
  The other thing we can do when we produce the new catalogue is announce that we will be producing a series of similar wagons with different numbers. This means that Dapol customers know in advance that they can build up a rake of wagons all with different numbers and they can be ordered in advance and they will be delivered on time.  
  And finally, what happened to all the Doctor Who props that you had?  
  The BBC owned the props and Dapol had a licence to utilise them until 2000. They have all been returned to the BBC. Whilst accepting that Doctor Who is again very popular and filmed in Wales, railway modellers can be certain that Dapol, in future, will be focusing on model railways and not Daleks!  

The Dapol 10th Edition Catalogue 2006, presenting current and future products, is now available from Dapol and authorised Dapol stockists. Click the link below to visit the Dapol website and order one. It is free!

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