Fledgling toy maker Automoblox Co. LLC is combining state-of-the-art plastic with traditional wood to create cars and trucks designed to drive a child's imagination.
All six Automoblox vehicles - which feature wood bodies with canopies, wheels and connecting parts made of Lexan-brand polycarbonate and axles made with Lubriloy-brand PC compounds - are available in specialty toy stores nationwide. The Roseland, N.J.-based firm will introduce smaller versions of the vehicles this spring at Target stores.
Both Lexan and Lubriloy are made by GE Plastics of Pittsfield, Mass. The Automoblox vehicles themselves are made at a pair of plants in China.
``We're using plastic to transform a traditional toy into something with a different visual appeal,'' Patrick Calello, Automoblox founder and chief creative officer, said in a recent telephone interview. ``And the plastic construction system makes everything interchangeable.''
Automoblox opened its doors in 2004, but Calello first had the idea for the product in 1992, while still a student at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. After graduating, he went on to work in industrial design for consumer products giant Colgate-Palmolive Co. and later launched his own design consulting firm, which he still operates.
``People would see [Automoblox] in my portfolio and they'd say, `Go for it,' '' recalled Calello, who's also done design work with Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Kellogg's and Columbia Records.
``There are a lot of great designs for toys out there, but too many of them don't leave anything for the child to do,'' he added. ``They tell the child how to do it or the child just pushes a button and something happens. Our product is all about engaging the senses. A lot of back-to-basics stuff appeals to kids.''
The six vehicle shapes currently in the Automoblox line are the compact, sports car, sedan, sport van, pickup truck and sport utility vehicle - each of which features a different-color plastic in its roof, wheels and connectors. The parts can be reassembled in any combination, for example, placing the pickup bed on the sports car body.
The wheels, with colored rubber tires, also can be exchanged. Each vehicle comes with removable plastic passengers.
The standard vehicles measure 6-8 inches. The smaller models that will be sold at Target will be half that size. Additional body types also are being considered.
The vehicles have been approved by a pretty tough judge: Calello's 5-year-old daughter, Isabella.
Calello was a bit of a design prodigy. While still a teenager in New Jersey, he hand-designed logos for the rock band White Lion and for Accomplice, a Broadway show created by former pop star Rupert Holmes. In both cases, Calello's designs were chosen over those made by professionals already working in the field.
The PC resin used in the Automoblox canopies is tough - a fact that recently led to an anguished call from a customer.
``We had someone tell us that their son was breaking all of his other toys because he thought they were unbreakable like ours,'' Calello said.
Automoblox also worked with GE Plastics in selecting the Lubriloy material for the vehicles' axles. Those parts originally were made with a standard PC resin that didn't work as well, he said.
And anyone seeking further proof of Calello's belief in the Automoblox product only has to look at the underside of each vehicle. There they'll see the words ``Designed by Calello.''