The Truth About Cars » kei car The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 24 Jul 2014 17:47:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » kei car Daihatsu Revives The Copen Mon, 23 Jun 2014 10:30:44 +0000 2015-diahatsu-copen-live-reveal-002-1


Daihatsu’s diminutive sports car is back after a two year absence, with a new look, but the same 660 cc displacement.

The Copen still puts out just 63 horsepower and 68 lb-ft from its tiny engine, but it’s also one of the more exciting kei-cars in existence. For 2014, Daihatsu has ditched the retro styling for something a bit more swoopy and modern. The impossibly tiny Copen (seriously, this thing makes a Miata look like a Ford Galaxie 500 in comparison) will start at $17,613 for the CVT model, and $17,825 for the 5-speed manual version.


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Caterham Using Three-Cylinder Suzuki Engine In Entry-Level Seven Wed, 07 Aug 2013 15:43:52 +0000 caterham_seven


The newest entry-level variant of the Caterham Seven range will be getting a powertrain from an unlikely source; a 660cc three-cylinder Suzuki engine.

Power and efficiency figures haven’t been announced, but Caterham is claiming that this is the lightest, most compact and most efficient powertrain ever put in a Seven. It’s also supposed to be the cheapest, slotting in under the previous 1.6L 125 horsepower Ford-engined variants. Given the engine’s 660 cc displacement, it’s likely that this unit comes from a Japanese-market kei car, which would equate to an output of 63 horsepower – possibly more in Caterham spec.

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Big Rollout For Small Car: Nissan Launches DAYZ Kei (You’ve seen it already.) Thu, 06 Jun 2013 15:09:45 +0000 IMG_7660

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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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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What Keis And Big Pickups Have In Common: A Galapagosization Thu, 30 May 2013 15:33:32 +0000 IMG_5637

Today’s Nikkei [sub] puts forth an interesting thought: Dependence on big pick-ups distracts the Detroit 3 on a global basis. Now, tiny kei cars could do the same to the Japanese.  Writes the Nikkei:

“Part of the reason the Big Three U.S. automakers lost their international dominance is because they lagged foreign carmakers in implementing global strategies by clinging to large pickup trucks, which only do well in the U.S.”

“There is a concern that an excessive focus on minicars will lead to the “Galapagosization” of Japan’s auto industry.”

Minicars, or “kei” cars are a rapidly growing segment in an otherwise stagnant Japanese auto market. In April, keis took 40 percent of the Japanese market. Elsewhere: Zero. Keis are a Japanese phenomenon, and nearly non-existent outside of Japan.  Says the Nikkei:

“The Maruti 800, which was produced by Suzuki for the Indian market based an older design for its Alto and was wildly popular, is perhaps the sole exception. But the car was equipped with an 800cc engine for the Indian market because a 600cc model was seen as underpowered.”

In trade talks, negotiators have criticized Japan for giving special tax and insurance treatment to minivehicles. But, says the Nikkei:

“Japanese carmakers may find that relying excessively on a protected domestic market poses a bigger risk than opening up to the world. Automakers should bring their advanced minicars to other countries, such as emerging markets, to show that their vehicles are not products of the Galapagos syndrome.”

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Nikkei: Honda’s Future Hinges On A Kei Car Wed, 29 Feb 2012 18:47:55 +0000

We have been saying for quite a while that Honda looks a bit pale around the nose. The Nikkei [sub] agrees. According to the Tokyo business paper, Honda blew it by relying too much on the U.S. market, by ignoring the emerging markets, and by disregarding the fact that Japan has a love affair with 0.6 liter midget-mobiles, a.k.a. kei cars. All of this has to change in a hurry, and Honda’s turn-around hinges on the success of a new kei car, the N Box. Says The Nikkei:

“While it is true that last year’s quake and the floods in Thailand dealt a blow, the carmaker has deeper structural problems. Honda let its success in selling expensive cars in the North American market go to its head, failing to notice changes in the global auto market. As other major carmakers shifted their strategic focus to emerging markets after the 2008 financial crisis, Honda saw its competitiveness wane and it was overtaken by South Korean rival Hyundai.”

“This is also apparent in the minicar segment. As it focused resources on its North American operations, Honda’s minicar engineering team was stretched too thin. Now minicars account for roughly 40% of the domestic market and Honda has taken a beating in the segment, tumbling to fourth place behind Nissan.”

On the kei car front, Honda’s counter attack looks promising. End of last year, Honda introduced the N Box, and Honda still can’t make it as fast as it sells. There is a two month wait for an N Box.

For the car, Honda revamped its production process for the first time in 10 years. Instead of the traditional monocoque method, an inner frame is built, and outer panels are welded on afterwards. This new process had teething problems, which delayed delivery. Now, Honda says it has mastered the production of N Boxes.

Mastering success in emerging markets will take a little longer.




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And The Honda Beat Goes On Fri, 24 Jun 2011 13:30:08 +0000

There is no replacement for displacement? How about a roadster “powered” by a 0.66 liter engine (yes, 40 ci, give or take a thimble) that is not allowed to make more than 63 hp?

Honda is developing a Kei car roadster, President Takanobu Ito said at Honda’s shareholders meeting yesterday, confirming rumors that even had Motor Trend hot & bothered.

It wouldn’t be a Honda first. 1991, Honda launched a two-seater Kei convertible, called the Beat. It didn’t last long and was discontinued in 1996.

“By offering a successor to the Beat, which still remains popular even today, Honda is likely looking to draw young men into the minivehicle market,” figures The Nikkei [sub]. Young men? I guess that means young Japanese women favor a Porsche.

Or how about a family car for Japan’s increasingly childless couples?

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Junkyard Find: Mitsubishi Minicab Dump Truck Thu, 26 May 2011 13:00:19 +0000
Sometimes I wonder how it’s even possible for some vehicles to slip through all the steps that should stop them from washing ashore on Crusher Island. Something as useful as a kei-sized dump truck, for example.

12″ wheels, gasoline engine, fits in tight spots yet carries a respectable load. The Mitsubishi Minicab is ungodly rare in North America, so it’s likely that all of the parts on this one will get melted down for scrap.

I’m tempted to get the electric hydraulic pump and ram from the bed for some as-yet-undreamed-up project, but I’ve already got 19 weird junkyard projects in line before this one.

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Japanese Mini Car Makers Fight Battle Of The Bulge Wed, 10 Mar 2010 11:24:41 +0000

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.

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