Inside a factory in Nilphamari, on both the sides of a green table, workers were giving final touches to Fiat Ducato Pilote campervans. At another table, others were assembling 1979 model Ford Transit Rally Assistance vans.
At a separate unit, some were painting London Fire AEC Regents.
This is the production unit of Sonic (Bangladesh) Limited's factory at the Uttara Export Processing Zone in Nilphamari.
It boasts a permanent car show displaying a: Ford Crown Victoria, Mitsubishi Lancer EVO, Mini Cooper, Renault 4CV, Jeepney Taxi Manila, Tuk Tuk Bangkok Taxi, and many more. The winning cars of the Tour De Corse, Dakar Rally, Rallye Monte Carlo, and Le Mans were there too.
Plus there was Le Mans 1931 winner Sir Henry Birkin's red Alfa Romeo 8C. None of the vehicles were for sale on the domestic market.
Each of the workers – wearing aprons, disposable hats, and hand gloves – looked like Gulliver playing with tiny vehicles.
These workers are not automobile engineers. They make die-cast scale model vehicles.
Every month, Sonic produces a million die-cast scale models. Its major export destinations are European countries – including Spain, France, UK, Germany, and Italy – and also Japan in Asia.
"We are one of the biggest die-cast model manufacturers exporting to the European market. We produce models of all car brands," said Benjamin Wong, the director of Sonic International (Toys) Limited, to The Business Standard.
In 1988, Sonic International was established in Hong Kong. In 2013 it launched production at its factory in Bangladesh.
Currently, Sonic's annual sales average $36 million.
He added, "Our products are not really toys. These are collectibles for youths aged 14 and above. The models are produced in different sizes or scales against the real measurements, like 1:18 and 1:24."
The scale of a model car is its size relative to that of the real car. For example, a 1:18 scale model means that the real version is 18 times larger in size. Benjamin said, "We have an engineering team in Europe that scans the real cars, and we reproduce the model cars accordingly."
These model cars weigh from 200g to 500g.
Assembling scale models, perhaps, is similar to crafting real cars.
The first step is to get permission from the original car manufacturers. After that, all the documents – like CAD computer data, factory drawings, photos – are obtained.
The collected information is then distributed to the engineering department – here, a team of sculptors create a three-dimensional model. Simultaneously, the project engineers elaborate computer drawings for all the different parts and tools.
"The raw materials – zinc alloy and virgin plastic – are sourced from China, Hong Kong and Thailand," said Hasibul Hasan, Sonic Bangladesh's HR, shipping and logistics manager.
Once the model prototype and technical drawings are prepared, the tools are worked on.
Manufacturing die-cast or resin model cars requires highly sophisticated die-cast body or resin cast forms, ABS plastic accessories, PVC rubber-type tires, and transparent plastic windows.
The metal body is produced using a die-cast injection machine, where the melted zinc alloy is sent inside the mould at a temperature of 470 degrees Celsius.
These die-cast bodies are trimmed and polished in a centrifugal drum containing ceramic stones. A similar process is required to inject the plastic parts.
Most of these parts, including the plastic parts, are hand-painted to give the models a sophisticated finish.
The decoration techniques include mask spraying, pad printing, electro painting silk-screen printed water decals.
All these decoration techniques are applied to the model by a select team of skilled craftsmen.
When all the parts are painted and decorated, the models go through a final assembly line and are carefully checked. From here, they are packed and shipped all over the world.
Die-cast model cars are also popular items in advertising and promotion. Some car manufacturers need the models to launch their campaigns and other purposes.
To understand demand and popularity, the marketing department of the company closely follows the car industry and motor-sports.
At its Bangladesh facility, Sonic has more than four thousand workers. Among them, only 100 are foreigners.
Every month, Sonic pays a minimum of Tk4.5 crore in salaries to its workers.