For ages, the kei car has been one of the darlings of the automotive world, owing to its tiny size and equally tiny engine (that also netted owners a smaller tax bill). Alas, Japan’s littlest cars may soon be put in a toy box destined for Goodwill as the nation’s government puts the pressure on both automakers and owners to move toward supporting bigger offerings.
The New York Times reports the Japanese government introduced three tax increases on kei owners, including a 50 percent boost in the kei car tax meant to bring their tax burden close to larger vehicles. Officials claim the cars are becoming a drain on the Diet’s coffers both on the tax and free trade fronts, and as they cannot be exported to other markets — college campuses withstanding — the keis are a waste of profit and R&D for automakers.
The Abe administration may see push back from owners and automakers alike, however. Smaller automakers such as Suzuki and Daihatsu use the R&D from their kei offerings to better compete in other markets where similar offerings are sold, as well as adding more content to make their cars more attractive to their local market base. Owners, meanwhile, opt for keis because of the low ownership costs involved, and the greater mobility offered in areas where mass transit is few and far between.
The tax increase on the kei has affected both parties, with automakers losing sales and owners who may decide not to buy any vehicle altogether; sales are expected to drop from 2.23 million in 2013 to 1.7 million in 2015.