TTAC finally found the holy grail of the auto-blogosphere: We busted a stringent embargo that won’t lift for more than two weeks. We did that on cars that are unobtainable for most. We blew the tarps not off one, but two makes. We didn’t find a dealer brochure, we caught the cars while they were made.
It was easier than it sounds. Last Friday, I was invited to a super-secret briefing about an upcoming car at Nissan. I had to swear on a stack of bibles and the scriptures of various far-eastern religions that I wouldn’t write anything before June 6. Actually, I didn’t go.
That way, I didn’t perjure myself, and instead I got up at 5:30 today in the morning to go to Mizushima, near Hiroshima. Mizushima is home to one of Mitsubishi’s two Japanese car plants, and as of today, it is home to two new cars you can’t buy. Unless you come to Japan. With TTAC in attendance, Mitsubishi cranked up the line today for the cars that will go on sale when the embargo lifts, on June 6.
Three years ago, Nissan and Mitsubishi started a cooperation. One of the projects was a joint kei car, one of those Japanese oddities with a pint-sized engine. Instead of rebadging minimobiles made by Suzuki and Mitsubishi, as it had done in the past, Nissan co-developed a new kei car with Mitsubishi. The car is made in the Mizushima plant and sold as the Nissan DAYZ and the Mitsubishi eK Wagon. The cars have small body changes on the outside – like a slightly different grille. On the inside, they are mostly identical. But then, all kei cars are quite similar on the inside, the tight specs (not more than 11.2 ft long, no more than 4.9 ft wide, engine displacement not over 660 cc, power not more than 63 hp) don’t leave much room for self-actualization.
Why joint development? “Having a car built somewhere else caps profits in the long run,” a Mitsubishi official tells me today. “Own development can be quite profitable if sales take off in a big way, and it can be much too expensive when sales don’t take off.”
Sharing development costs while realizing scale effects when the car is successful is seen as a good strategy. The kei segment is big in Japan and growing. Nearly 40 percent of all cars sold in the island nation are keis. However, that’s mostly it. Keis are a Japanese phenomenon, and nearly non-existent outside of Japan. This stunts their global growth potential.
|Best-Selling Kei Cars Japan April 2013|
Neither Nissan nor Mitsubishi want to give production targets, at least not before the official launch on June 6. The back of an envelope quickly reveals how many they want .to build. They are targeting 20 percent market share, together. That would be 20 percent of 2 million, or some 30,000 a month. Currently, some 230,000 keis are sold annually among Nissan and Mitsubishi, That would be around 20,000 a month. Somewhere in that neighborhood.
We’ll try to snag one for a from-the-backseat car review when one is available,.