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Kei Cars in Japan: The Gigantic Mini Car Market

Everyone yearns for giant SUVs. Everyone? No – some Japanese cities are fiercely resisting the trend of SUVs. If you're in downtown Tokyo, Osaka, or Hiroshima, you'll find lots of cars instead of huge shrunken pseudo-land vehicles: the so-called Kei Cars – miniature miniature cars with mini motorcycles.

While in the rest of the world automotive gnomes are smiling the most, in Japanese cities they are often the only way to be mobile. First, because not only property, but also maintenance and, above all, shelter are reasonably accessible. Second, because even in busy, trendy downtown locations such as Tokyo's Ghinza Street, there are many lanes that are so narrow you can't get out with a regular car.

Luxury equipment in a microcar

In much of the population, Kei cars are accepted as full-fledged cars. They are often outfitted as luxury limousines: Curtain or ESP airbags are now standard, extras like automatic climate control, leather upholstery or home theater-style navigation monitors are not uncommon. Not to mention electric sliding doors and variable-seat landscapes.

In fact, the kei car category is not a new phenomenon, nor is it a response to climate change and urbanization. Instead, it follows, in a sense, the Japanese tradition: soon after World War II, the government introduced the so-called Kei-Ji-Dou-Sya, the light car. At the time, it was a kind of economic development, and even less wealthy Japanese could climb two to four wheels.

With 64 hp it's over

Today, these cars in the current version of the law can be no more than 3.40 meters, not exceed a width of 1.48 meters, no more than 660 cubic centimeters and cannot pay more than 64 hp. Cars that meet these criteria receive a tax deduction, pay less toll on city and country highways, parking rates are lower, and in many cities you don't have to prove your own parking space for a kei-car. to be admitted.

Clearly, this form of demanding and promoting arrives. Kei cars, which can be recognized on a special license plate, have long represented a large part of the car market: in 2016, for example, over 30 million minis were registered in Japan, representing almost 40% of total inventory. vehicles, and their share of sales is currently at a similar level.

Daihatsu Copen: Bonsai Roaster

Thomas Geiger

Daihatsu Copen: Bonsai Roaster

No other car category sells so well

Even the best selling car in Japan is therefore not a classic car, but a kei car. While the Toyota Prius is reportedly the top seller in the first half of 2019, reaching about 70,000 approvals, Honda N-Box found more than 130,000 customers as the most successful kei car in the same period. And the next three best-selling Kei cars, the Suzuki Spacia, the Daihatsu Tant and the Nissan Days are still ahead of the Prius.

Given the sheer volume, Kei-Cars has long developed a market in the market that caters to various niches. Although it is with most Kei cars, maximum space utilization. The best-selling models are therefore micro-vans with almost vertical sidewalls, large sliding doors and possibly a slight disdain as a hood. But in addition to these rolling shoe boxes, there are also all other types of carriage construction: sports roadster, sedan – even Winz-shaped off-road vehicles.

Only two marks are not represented.

As a result, the minis take up a lot of space at the Tokyo auto show – and the exhibition program, summarized here in the photo gallery, is correspondingly colorful and fun.

Photo gallery


Photo gallery:
Square, convenient, superstars

Not studies like the Lexus LF30 or the next generation Toyota Mirai, but toy cars like the Suzuki Waku or the new Daihatsu Copen are the show's secret stars. Only two Japanese brands do not participate there: Mazda, however, with only licensed products mainly represented by Suzuki in the kei car market, withdrew from this segment a few years ago and Toyota leaves the business instead of sister brand Daihatsu.

With ever-bustling inner cities and an increasingly dense air, Kei cars can be a solution to traffic problems outside Japan. But really successful little things in the rest of the world can't be established. Especially because they not only meet other crash and pollutant standards, but also need to be converted to left-hand drive vehicles for use in lawful traffic – and these are investments that Nissan, Suzuki & Co evidently avoid in the face of low cost expectations. unitary. No wonder, for example, that Daihatsu has completely withdrawn from the European market with his Copen mini-coupe for this reason.

All Europeans don't have to be without Kei Cars. Especially in the English market, imports of ash come to the continent and at least Suzuki Jimny is officially offered. However, the European home version in Japan would have no chance: to make Europeans the most delicious thing in the world, it was a new four-cylinder engine deployed. With us, with 1.5 liters for most SUV drivers, is still a little, Japan is already too big.

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