Subminiature, or „kei“ cars ( from kei-jidosha – subcompact cars) have been a Japanese phenomenon. At one time, their combined share was 1/3 of Japan’s market. Unlike anime and Pokemon, the 660 cc vehicles never much made it beyond Japan’s shores. And recently, the sales of the pocket monsters on wheels had been flagging. Last February, the little critters had recorded their first rise rise after 15 months of going down – by a hair of 0.7 percent.
According to today’s Nikkei [sub], “improvements in hybrid and electric technology are dulling the fuel-efficiency edge that minivehicles have long had over larger cars. To maintain their advantage, makers of minis are putting their autos on diets, shaving weight wherever they can to eke out better gas mileage.”
Well, the formerly yaseta (skinny, lithe) kei cars have gotten a bit debu-debu (hefty) lately. Minivehicles have grown larger and heavier over the years, losing some of their appeal — superior mileage — in the process.
Manufacturers have declared an all-out war to fight the flab. When Suzuki launched a redesigned 2010 Alto last December, Yasunori Arakawa, chief engineer for the development team, “panicked” when he “was told that the new Alto might have to become even 100 grams heavier than the previous one to meet quality assurance standards.” After an all-hands slimfest, the redesigned Alto did shed 10kg, and became nearly 17 percent more fuel-efficient. Daihatsu’s new Tanto, released last December, dropped 60kg of extra heft. All minicar makers are on the hunt for weight to regain lost market share.