It's quite simple really: Hornby have not quite got universal praise for their latest round of steam outline products, the 42xx and 72xx Great Western Heavy Tanks.
Across the internet, whether it's on MREmag, the New Railway Modellers Forum, Modellers United or similar, there is definitely an undercurrent of disappointment from would be purchasers of these models and future products from Hornby.
Now, it's fair to say that the Heavy Tanks are flawed. Not so flawed that they are absolutely dreadful, but simply not up to the specifications that modellers and collectors have come to expect for their £120-£140 RRP.
Richard Foster's review in last month's Model Rail got it absolutely spot on. They're not good enough for their price, and they are certainly not up to the very high standards Hornby themselves have set. Not the consumer, I hasten to add, but Hornby.
I think the point that Model Rail were making (and I myself amongst others across the internet) is that you cannot continue to push prices up at RRP and put detail standards down without at some point going past an accepted level of "value for money" and thus alienating your core group of consumers.
No one notices sprung buffers, but to tool up a new set of unsprung ones when you have the correct types already tooled up for use on previous GWR models is bizarre.
The Thompson trio of L1, B1 and O1 from Hornby all share certain components, plus some portions of their research and development, so not only do we know it can be done, we know Hornby have done it previously.
A case in point is the Railroad Peppercorn A1 and all the other loco drive LNER Pacifics that Hornby offer. Their chassis in particular are exercises in reusing shared components amongst different models.
The 42xx/72xx feel like they were built down to a price and marked up at RRP to the limit of that the market would stand. Most modellers will tell you that's how it works across the board, and I wouldn't deny that, but the heavy tanks feel like an extreme example.
I feel almost confident that, had the models been at an RRP of £100 instead of in and around £140, reviewers might have been more inclined to overlook things like the door dart, sprung buffers and similar. In terms of price at sale, models have to meet the standards met elsewhere at similar RRPs (like Bachmann's magnificent Midland Compound. For the same RRP, and at similar discounts at the box shifters as the Heavy Tanks, you can have one of these. Not helpful if you really want a Heavy Tank, but it puts the specification versus price debate into perspective).
However couple that with the chassis design (for which I am not convinced the sudden loss of brass bushes set into slots on the chassis will prove a long term gain for Hornby in terms of reliability and running characteristics), the poor paint job and printing (look in particular at the buffer beam numerals and crests) and the whole model just doesn't match up to Hornbys high standards or their competitors.
Richard Foster nailed it in my view. If these had been the first of the new generation, and not the MNs and BoBs/WCs over a decade ago, and at a price suitable to their spec, we'd be extolling their values and praising them to the hilt.
The world has moved on, Hornby has taken a step backwards, Bachmann and Dapol continue to impress and push up their own standards.
Why Hornby have to be so Jekyll and Hyde in their approach to model railways is beyond me. I will tell (and no doubt bore) anyone who'll listen how brilliant their LNER models are.
We can't afford to be blaze in our purchases anymore, money is tight for everyone and its clear people are not going to pay out for everything if it doesn't quite meet their expectations anymore.
So that's my point of view on the 42xx and 72xx discussion. It's shared elsewhere by a good number of people. I can only say (as I always say) that you should treat forum discussion as a sample, but the sheer number of disappointed purchasers and bystanders is surprising.
Now, I am convinced the 42xx and 72xx can be turned into excellent models by changing a few things. Sprung buffers, smokebox dart, a better paint job and some weathering. However, it's the starting point which has changed. The price is higher, the specification is lower. Modellers are a discerning bunch, and they have to be.
There will be modellers looking at Hornby's future products and wondering if they are going to come out like these models. Will they pass on future models if they're not up to scratch? In my view it's best to tell Hornby now how you feel now, be constructive and be upfront and honest, than to stay quiet and wait for the inevitable to happen.
So what do we think of this post by Andy York on RMweb?
"The flames seem to have been fanned by some that I wouldn't think would have an interest in the specific product but have used it to register concerns about future potential releases and it seems in some cases that some people have been on an active search to find faults to add to the list. Let's just keep it level-headed, it's beginning to sound like some are calling for blood".
Well yes Andy, that's the point. If the models are not meeting the expectations of their purchasers, or potential future customers of Hornby, why can't people make their viewpoints heard in the most constructive manner?
If you actually bothered read back through your own Heavy Tank thread on RMweb, you won't find people "baying for blood" or actively trying to find the most preposterous faults to devalue the model.
You'll find a group of modellers actively trying to define their feelings on Hornby's latest steam outline models, and the "design clever" strategy (which, lest we forget, Messers York and RMweb were actively extolling the values of in December last year) with as much reason, careful discussion and genuinely good natured debate as is the norm in the hobby.
What is frustrating is the amount of incomprehensible doublespeak that comes out of the mouths of people who should know better, or who have previously allowed good and positive, constructive discussion to influence the development of some excellent models.
So is this "Hornby bashing" as it's become fashionable to term, by people who can't debate and have no idea how to be constructive? No, of course it's not. We all want Hornby to do well. Anyone who actively wants Hornby to fail is not acting in the best interests of the hobby and future models.
We have to make our voices heard in the most constructive manner. People like myself have done so without resorting to name slanging, or accusations of "fanning flames" and generally being unpleasant and abusing our positions of power. We need to continue to do so without being beaten down by people who try to control news, views, and viewpoints.
Until next time - and apologies for the lack of blogs this month. Have started a new job and time has been at a premium. Normal service will be resumed soon!