By on June 6, 2013

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Nissan and Mitsubishi today presented their jointly developed, but separately badged and marketed kei car to an amazingly large contingent of the Japanese press.  TTAC readers are quite familiar with the car(s). They have watched the Nissan DAYZ and its Mitsubishi siblings, the eK Wagon and eK Custom  on its first day of production at Mitsubishi’s  plant in Mizushima, near Hiroshima, more than two weeks ago. Today, the car arrived in Tokyo.

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In an overall weak Japanese market, there are two segments that show resiliency, and that’s kei cars and imports.  While sales of regular vehicles in Japan are down nearly 11 percent in the first 5 months,  sales of minivehicles decreased only 1.7 percent in the same period.  Sales of  imported cars were up 24.8 in May, its 11 straight month of increase, the Japan Automobile Importers Association said today. For the year, imports are up 13.2 percent.

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This flies in the faces of some voices in Detroit, which insist that kei cars are just another sign of a closed Japanese car market that makes imports impossible,  and that keis must go. The facts say otherwise, but these particular Detroit voices are amazingly fact-resistant. It is true that kei cars have a growing 40 percent share of the Japanese market, and foreign makers have none of this pie. Not because they are locked out, however.

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Nothing keeps a foreign automaker from offering a car in Japan that is not more than 11.2 ft long, no more than 4.9 ft wide, that has an engine displacement not over 660 cc, and provides not more than 63 hp, thereby qualifying as a kei car. Daimler once sold a Smart ForTwo as a Smart K  in Japan. It turned into the worst selling kei car – a kei  is basic, low-cost transportation, something the Smart was not. Those small cars need tiny prices. The Nissan DAYZ starts at $10,000, fully loaded it costs $15,600, incl. tax.

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Foreigners would be nuts to target the small car market that barely is big enough for Japanese makers who had been in it since MacArthur packed moving boxes at the Dai-Ichi Building. There is a reason why Nissan and Mitsubishi are in this small car together.

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Despite their success in Japan, keis are mostly unsalable elsewhere. They are widely regarded as underpowered and made for skinny Japanese bodies. Development costs must be amortized over as many units as possible, and a kei car simply cannot reach the global unit sales of a regular car.

In this video, the always elegant former Time Magazine reporter Coco Masters, now displaced to Nissan in Yokohama, looks into the kei car market and asks Nissan COO Toshiyuki Shiga if and when keis will be sold elsewhere. Watch Shiga make a comment about the small cars not being wide bodied enough for the wider bodies of overseas customers.

Something I had to put to the test immediately.

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Jalopnik will like this one: The author in a flesh-colored kei – Picture courtesy Chris Keeffe

Only for skinny Japanese? Not true at all!

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9 Comments on “Big Rollout For Small Car: Nissan Launches DAYZ Kei (You’ve seen it already.)...”


  • avatar
    Pig_Iron

    Frugal Japanese gamers will be thrilled. Check for bereted zombies though, before you hop in.
    ;-)

  • avatar

    There were none

  • avatar
    JimothyLite

    Cool post, Bertel. Maybe it’s just me, but the more I see them, the more I love the kei cars. It’d be interesting to find out more about their safety ratings and performance specs. Any links? And I think I would fit nicely in one of these, but I’d go a different route than the pink one.

    • 0 avatar

      You can buy a kei car in America: Mitsubishi MiEV. Try to yourself and see. We hear so much about kei car safety blah blah blah, but Mitsu i required fairly reasonable adaptation for street safety standards. It’s not going to win 5-star ratings, but it’s as survivable as Chevy Spark.

  • avatar
    wmba

    If width is the criteria, then a kei-car is the same as an old MGB. People fit in that fine, and the couple of well-fed folks in the background of pic 6 above give the lie to the myth that all the Japanese are skinny.

    So, Bertel, what’s the real reason kei-cars aren’t exported?

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      They were back in the day. Remember the Subaru 360? The Honda N600 was an export version of the Kei-class N360. Why would people buy cars that fit in an arbitrarily sized box when they don’t have serious incentives to do so? How would a kei car perform in a 35 mph offset barrier crash? In a crash with an F150? On an 80 mph freeway?

  • avatar

    Bertel,

    I can see the illusion. that “kei car” you’re sitting in is actually quite large–huge, even. It’s as big as a Ford FISO.


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