Ahhhh… the Japanese K-car (also known as Kei Cars) is such a fascinating creature. They are just regular sized car just like a BMW Mini but at the same time different.
But unlike the Mini, they are a common sight in Japan. Based on the statistic provided by the Japanese Kei Car Association in 2016, among all four-wheels vehicle on the road in Japan, 39% of them belongs to the Kei cars category. In other words, there are more than 30 million registered Kei Cars in Japan. Just imagine one out of three cars you see on the road is a BMW mini, that’s how prevalent Kei car is in Japan.
And unlike Mini, they in order for a Kei Car to be manufactured and sold in Japan, they have to comply to a totally different law & requirements or they will not be categorized as Kei Car. One of them is, all Kei Car has to be less than 660cc.
Why are they called “Kei Car”?
So why are they called “Kei Car”?
In Japanese, Kei Cars are referred to as “軽自動車”, pronounced as Kei-Ji-Dou-Sya, which means “Lightweight car”. In other words, the “Kei” in Kei car means “Light” or “Lightweight”.
So why is the Japanese Kei Car so prevalent in Japan?
Many reasons & the interaction between them
Money. After World War II, Japan was devasted and poor. Although many Japanese back in those days had enough money to purchase a motorcycle, many were too poor to buy a proper car. To promote the growth of the automotive company, the Kei Car industry was introduced to boost the automotive industry and as a transportation means for small businesses.
As an illustration how cheap a Kei car can be. The cheapest 2019 model available right now offered by Suzuki, can be bought at slightly over 8,000 USD.
Roads. There are many roads in Japan are very narrow and small. Too small for a normal sized vehicle to go through them. Due to this, the Kei Cars gain quite a popularity as they literally can reach areas that can’t be reached by the usual cars. And time goes on, just like a virtuous cycle, more Japanese bought Kei Cars as they are more mobile, hence providing fewer incentives to re-develop the road to fit normal-sized cars and making the Kei cars more and more desirable.
Who makes Kei Cars?
Kei cars are mainly manufactured by Daihatsu, Mazda, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Subaru & Toyota. In other words, they are produced by the usual automotive giants in Japan.
However, Daihatsu, Honda, Mitsubishi, and Suzuki are currently the only mass-production manufacturers of kei cars. While Nissan sells re-badged Mitsubishi and Suzuki models and Mazda sells re-badged Suzuki models, and Toyota and Subaru sell badge-engineered Daihatsu models.
Number Plate for Kei Cars
A special number plate is used for Kei Cars in Japan.
For private vehicle, the number plate is in Yellow and words are written in Black (top right) while it’s usually white with green text for a normal sized car (top left).
For commercial vehicle, the number plate is in black with yellow text (bottom right) while a normal-sized commercial vehicle has a green background with white text (bottom left).
What is the current situation?
Taxes have for purchasing Kei Cars in Japan and thus and lead to decreasing in sales. With the constant reduced population, the future of the k-car look bleak but they won’t be gone from Japanese road anytime soon.