The Truth About Cars » kei cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Mon, 14 Jul 2014 13:00:56 +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 cars Abe Administration Pushes Automakers, Nation Away From Kei Cars Wed, 11 Jun 2014 11:00:09 +0000 Nissan Moco

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.

]]> 23
Honda S660 To Enter Production In 2015 At Former Beat Factory Wed, 07 May 2014 11:00:37 +0000 Honda-S660-Concept-Live-Shot-05

Over two decades ago during the early years of Japan’s Lost Decade (or Lost 20 Years for those who believe the nation’s economy has yet to improve since the boom of the 1980s), Soichiro Honda’s final car before his passing — the Honda Beat kei roadster — left the Yachiyo Industry Company-owned factory at Yokkaichi to take on the likes of the Suzuki Cappuccino and Autozam AZ-1.

History could come back around, however, when the factory gears up to build the production-version of the Honda S660 in 2015.

Autoblog reports the Yokkaichi factory — which currently builds the N, Life and Vamos for Honda under-contract — had been slated for expansion a few years ago before the automaker moved the majority of its kei-car production to its own factory in Suzuka.

No word on how many of the new roadsters will be built, nor how much they will be priced; it also remains to be seen if American Honda CEO Tetsuo Iwamura can bring the S660 — or S1000, should more power be needed than the 660cc turbocharged engine mounted mid-ship can provide — to the United States sometime after Japan gets theirs.

]]> 11
2013 Tokyo Motor Show: Honda S660 Roadster Revealed, May Get Turbo One Liter Three For Export Wed, 20 Nov 2013 05:33:17 +0000 honda-s660-concept-03

Seen as a successor to the early ’90s Honda Beat kei car, the new S660 roadster, which will go into production in 2014, was introduced at the Tokyo Motor Show. The midengined car, as the nomenclature indicates, is powered by a 660cc three cylinder turbocharged engine driving through a seven speed paddle shifted transmission. While kei cars are meant specifically for the Japanese domestic market, there is a possibility that it might be sold, with modifications in other countries. Honda senior designer Ryo Sugiura, when asked about selling the little roadster outside of Japan, said, “I cannot tell you if it will or will not. It’s a secret. The car would certainly need some re-engineering.” 


While 660 cubic centimeters is probably too small for even Europe, let alone the United States, the engine is thought to be tuned relatively mildly, creating the possibility of higher performance versions for export markets. Also, it’s rumored that the engine bay of the S660 is large enough to take the 105 hp 1 liter turbo three that will power the next generation Honda Jazz/Fit.


Sugiura said that the production version will be almost identical to the concept.

]]> 16
Japanese Domestic Market Sales Up 17.3% In October, Kei Car Growth May Stall With New Taxes Mon, 04 Nov 2013 12:00:25 +0000 Manufacturer Month (A) Previous year (B) A / B (%) This year total Previous year total Year-on-year (%) Daihatsu 194 241 80.5 1939 2303 84.2 Fuji Heavy Industries 13121 11851 110.7 99888 76721 130.2 Hino 5524 4704 117.4 34737 32041 108.4 Honda 39398 26186 150.5 238177 365294 65.2 Isuzu 8259 6915 119.4 47349 46223 102.4 Mazda 16669 15531 107.3 131909 136678 96.5 Mitsubishi 4194 3550 118.1 31980 40397 79.2 Mitsubishi Fuso 3803 2988 127.3 26533 26569 99.9 Nissan 47534 48502 98 362177 371501 97.5 Perch 6908 7289 94.8 61243 72230 84.8 Toyota 140228 124025 113.1 1166595 1295876 90 UD Trucks 1024 856 119.6 6672 6886 96.9 Imported car 37459 35841 104.5 257873 233609 110.4 Total 324315 288479 112.4 2467072 2706328 91.2

With a sales tax increase of 3% looming next year and the Japanese economy on an upswing, October retail sales of cars and light trucks in Japan were up over 17% from the same month last year, with both regular and mini “kei” cars doing well. Honda led all companies with a 50% increase from 2012 and Toyota taking first place in overall sales with a little over 140,000 units sold, up 13%.

Last month kei cars were also up, with an increase of over 25%. Some analysts feel that the growth in kei cars will be short lived, even though both Honda and Daihatsu will be showing kei concepts at the upcoming Tokyo auto show. To compensate Japanese consumers for the increase in sales tax, it is likely that acquisition taxes on regular cars will be reduced. The new scheme will ultimately be based on fuel economy and since kei cars are not particularly fuel efficient despite their small displacement engines, taxes on kei cars will probably go up. Also, trade negotiations may mean the end of favorable tax treatment to the little cars. The Nikkei news agency reports of, “external pressure to increase taxes on minicars.” Japan is currently negotiating with the EU, trying to get the Europeans to eliminate their 10% tariff on new cars and in exchange it may sacrifice the tax advantages of kei cars, which are only made by Japanese manufacturers. That would theoretically open up more of the Japanese market to imports, which currently make up about 11.5% of JDM sales.

Source: Japan Automobile Dealers Association

]]> 5
The Beat Resurrected: Meet the Honda S660 Thu, 24 Oct 2013 12:00:41 +0000 Honda S660 01

Honda’s rear-driven products built for two tend to be motorcycles, scooters and ATVs for the most part, but every now and again the company will unveil a roadster whose name begins with an S, and ends with the number of cubic centimeters the engine provides.

Such a car is set to return soon to the showroom floor, and will make its debut at the Tokyo Motor Show in November: The Honda S660.

The word on the street is the S660 will be powered by a 660 cc turbocharged engine placed just behind the driver and passenger, with all of its 67 ponies going to the rear wheels. Unlike some of Honda’s current and future offerings that are or will be powered by a combination of internal combustion and electric motivation, the new roadster is strictly gasoline-only.

The featherweight roadster, has its roots in the company’s EV-STER electric-only concept from the 2011 Tokyo Motor Show with regard to styling, penned by designer Ryo Sugiura. That said, don’t try to tell him his roadster is the second coming of the late Soichiro Honda’s last gift to the world, the Beat:

Some people might think this will be the remodeled version of the Beat. But it is not. This is totally brand new.

The S660 is one part of a potential three-pronged attack by Honda in the sports car segment. With it and the NSX forming the outer forks, the automaker plans to forge the center fork through the introduction a mid-engined Toyabaru hunter with a price point to match the GT86/BRZ/FRS when it makes its debut. In the meantime, the U.S. domestic market may not need to wait 25 years for the S660 to come over; Honda plans to sell the roadster in export markets with a 1000cc engine and minor changes with regards to safety regulations. S1000, anyone?

The S660 will make its production debut in Japan for the 2015 model year, in time for the automaker’s return to Formula One.


Honda S660 01 Honda S660 02 Honda S660 03 Honda S660 04 ]]> 64
Mitsubishi Wants To Re-Tool Itself Thu, 23 May 2013 12:56:33 +0000 IMG_5537

After accumulating some $9 billion in losses, Mitsubishi Motors is bringing its financial house in order. According to Reuters, “Mitsubishi Motors is considering asking shareholders to approve plans for a 10-for-1 reverse stock split. At the same time, the company may ask shareholders to approve a capital reorganization – a change in accounting that would make it possible to resume paying dividends.”


Reuters’ sources say the first steps could be announced as soon as Friday and put it before shareholders at the annual meeting at the end of June, “to close a chapter that began with a 2004 bailout for Mitsubishi Motors.”


Being part of the Mitsubishi group, one of the largest in Japan, Mitsubishi Motors has rich parents that were able to finance an often rocky career of its offspring. Mitsu had a partnership with Chrysler, which was dissolved in the 90s. A decade later, Mitsubishi and Chrysler were back together, as part of a tumultuous threesome with Daimler. In 2004, Mitsubishi dropped out after a boardroom drama at DaimlerChrysler prevented a financial salvage operation of the money-leaking company. At this point, Mitsubishi Motors basically moved in with its well-to-do parent.


Mitsubishi gave up production in Europe by the end of 2012, and is focusing on the developing markets, mostly Southeast Asia, where it is strong. Mitsubishi has three assembly plants in Thailand alone. At home in Japan, it is streamlining its production. At the Mizushima plant on Monday, I saw nearly to complete catalog of Mitsubishi cars come down the same assembly line. Mitsubishi had  two lines, one for Kei cars, one for regular cars. Even those were combined into one – rather long – multi-model line.

Mitsubishi’s best-selling models on a global basis are the Triton pickup truck and the small SUV sold as both the RVR and Outlander Sport.


]]> 10
日本の警察の車: The Cars of the Japanese Police Sun, 24 Feb 2013 14:19:02 +0000

They can cuff me anytime.

Hot girls in short skirts are the first things that leap into my mind whenever anyone says anything about the Japanese. The internet has not helped to change that, in fact it may have made things worse. If you add the word “Japanese” to any noun that describes a group of people and enter it into your favorite search engine, pictures of hot young girls will always appear near the top of the results. Look for Japanese tour guides, Japanese students, Japanese beach volleyball players or Japanese anything and you will see I am right. Try it, I’ll wait.

Now that you’re back, did you look for Japanese Police? I did, and despite my prior confession I was surprised at what I found. The main reason for that is because I have met a lot of Japanese police officers over the years and I can tell you from my own personal experience that they are, for the most part, nothing at all like the ones pictured above.

One of the most respected and professional police forces in the world, the Japanese “keisatsu” is a no nonsense outfit that takes its work seriously. Detectives pour over crime scenes and mark even the smallest bits of evidence with dozens of tiny red flags, rank and file officers patrol the streets on foot in groups or individually man “police boxes” in virtually every neighborhood and Japanese traffic police hone their driving and motorcycle riding skills to such perfection that only an idiot would think about running. The keisatsu is not an organization to be disrespected or trifled with and anyone who does, does so at their own peril.

Like any modern police force, the Japanese police have a tremendous amount of equipment. I could write several articles detailing armored cars, motorcycles, disaster response vehicles, buses, etc. but the most instantly recognizable vehicle in any police force is always the police car and Japan is no exception. Decked out in stunning black-and-white livery, Japanese police cars command instant attention and respect on the street. Unlike the United States, where most police cars are one of just two or three common types of sedan, the Japanese use an astonishing variety of cars, each especially suited to a specific role.

This photo is a bit dated, but I still love it.

Without a doubt, the coolest cars in the Japanese police’s motor pool are the interceptors, and well they should be because they are based on some of the baddest rides going. Some of the more famous examples have been Skyline GTRs, Mitsubishi 3000 GTs (Called the GTO in Japan), the RX-7, RX-8 and even the Fairlady Z. However, the Japanese police seldom engage in high speed chases and the rules of the road are usually maintained by speed cameras and the good old fashioned speed trap. So, while they look glorious wearing their official colors, these cars are used more as public relations tools than they are as true enforcers of public order.

One tool the keisatsu does use to great effect on the road is the unmarked car. These can be virtually any make or model and generally they hide their lights in the grill or under trap doors in the roof that pop open when they are triggered. I imagine that, like the unmarked cars used by American police forces, these cars are easily recognized by the locals but to me they were a real threat. On at least two occasions I ended up having polite conversations at the side of the road after cutting around a line of slow moving cars on the freeway to find one of these at the head of the parade. In both cases I got a firm talking to, but fortunately no tickets.

The Toyota Crown at work – check out those raised lights!

The backbone of the Japanese police fleet is the “patto-ka” and the most common patrol car on the Japanese roads today is the Toyota Crown. I have seen three versions of the Crown in action. One wears police livery but goes without the overhead lights and I presume this type of car is used by high ranking officers as a part of their duties. Actual “siren cars” as every little Japanese boy calls them, come in two flavors, those with regular, fixed red lights and those with red lights that can be raised for better visibility at accident scenes. Toyota Crowns, by the way, are also used in Japan as taxi-cabs and medium sized limos. The sheer number of them on the road makes me think they are pretty tough cars.

The Japanese police car Americans know the least about are those most often assigned to small neighborhood police stations. Because the Japanese police are committed to community policing, officers are often assigned to these small “koban” and they generally stay close to their duty station. The cars attached to these outposts are usually small econoboxes, with the cars most used being from the tiny 660cc kei class. These little cars are a great fit because they work well on narrow roads and offer the ability to carry a passenger. They are by no means fast and they would not serve as good patrol units, but they were never intended to.

A typical around town police car.

That’s because when posted to a Koban, Japanese officers are most often found on foot or on bicycles. Of course, we have bicycle patrols in the United States as well, but unlike the expensive high tech multi-speed bikes that specially outfitted and uniformed police use in our country, the Japanese approach is more mundane and makes a lot more sense.

Decked out in their regular uniforms on the same type of plain, single speed upright bikes often used by Japanese housewives, complete with handlebar mounted baskets and small cases on the cargo racks, the keisatsu are able to see and hear things that they might miss were they to patrol using motorized transport. They use the bicycle to its best advantage and their accessibility to the public makes the cop on the beat an easily approachable and welcome part of any neighborhood. How many American children know the names of the police officers who patrol our neighborhoods?

Bicycles patrols are more than just effective ways to reach the public, the are also environmentally friendly. As the sponsor of the Kyoto Convention on Climate Control, the Japanese government is especially concerned about going green wherever possible and, as a result many of the newest official vehicles are either hybrid or battery powered and police cars are no exception. As with the kei class cars, these vehicles are used in for short trips rather than day long patrols, but the fact they are relied upon at all shows that the Japanese police are constantly looking to modernize their fleet. Like the interceptors, these cars garner a great deal of public attention and often appear at public events. I expect that the numbers of these in service with the police will continue to increase as time goes on.

The Japanese police are a good organization that works hard to ensure public safety. They are serious about the job they do and the variety of vehicles they operate says a lot about their commitment. Like police forces worldwide, the Japanese police must work within a budget and one way they do so effectively is by using the right tools for specific jobs. I hope you have enjoyed this limited look at some of the cars they utilize in their effort to protect and to serve.

The average Japanese cop is more about kicking ass than he is about showing it.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

Another dated photo, but too awesome to pass up. They can cuff me anytime. These guys are the real-deal. The Toyota Crown at work - check out those raised lights! A kei class van. A neighborhood "police box." A typical police motorpool, including a crash response truck. Once upon a time, the fast cars of the Japanese Police were imports. Nissan March - not kei class, but small. Mitsubishi electric This photo is a bit dated, but I still love it. Mazda RX-8 R33 Skyline A typical unmarked Nissan Skyline A typical around town police car. The Fairlady Z On patrol with the Japanese police. Japan 13 Bicycle cops - Picture courtesy ]]> 42
Deep Data Dive: Tsunami Washes Kei Cars To The Top Of Japanese Charts Mon, 06 Jun 2011 14:03:52 +0000

The March 11 earthquake and tsunami didn’t just destroy more than 410,000 cars in Japan. It also totally mangled the list of top selling cars in Japan. After a two year absence, two minivehicles took the top spot of the chart. Suzuki’s WagonR mini vehicle was the best-selling new car in May, Daihatsu’s Move mini vehicle took second. The first regular car was the Honda Fit in the 3rd position. Perennial leader Toyota Prius is in the 6th position, despite an early re-start of production.  Full list after the jump ….

The Nikkei [sub] explains the phenomenon thusly: “Mini vehicles have fewer parts than regular passenger cars. The Great East Japan Earthquake’s impact on the production of mini vehicles, due to supply chain disruptions, was therefore relatively minor.”

That’s one explanation. Another is that both the Wagon R and the Move are inexpensive movers of people and stuff, something that came in handy after the catastrophe. Mini vehicles  or kei cars are a Japanese oddity:  Less than 0.66 liter displacement, 64 hp max. Low tax. Cheap insurance.

A further oddity is that minivehicles and regular cars have their own statistics, even their own dealer associations. The Japan Automobile Dealers Association said that sales of new regular vehicles fell 37.8 percent year-on-year in May. The Japan Mini Vehicles Association reported a decline of 25.4 percent for the same period.

What follows is a mash-up of both statistics.

Japan’s best selling cars, May 2011

Rank Maker Name May Growth YoY Type
1 Suzuki Wagon R 11,186 -22.7% Mini
2 Daihatsu Move 9,402 6.6% Mini
3 Honda Fit 9,354 -21.3% Regular
4 Daihatsu Tanto 9,267 -31.4% Mini
5 Toyota Vitz 7,867 -14.5% Regular
6 Toyota Prius 6,491 -76.1% Regular
7 Nissan Serena 5,766 -5.6% Regular
8 Suzuki Alto 5,204 -39.2% Mini
9 Honda Life 4,887 11.0% Mini
10 Daihatsu Mira 4,777 -37.2% Mini
11 Honda Freed 4,605 2.1% Regular
12 Nissan Moco 4,124 21.4% Mini
13 Toyota Ractis 3,737 11.1% Regular
14 Toyota Corolla 3,307 -58.6% Regular
15 Nissan March 3,271 17.7% Regular
16 Suzuki Parrott 3,266 -42.8% Mini
17 Nissan Roox 3,148 -32.8% Mini
18 Honda Step Wagon 3,107 -46.6% Regular
19 Nissan Notes 2,904 -40.3% Regular
20 Mazda Demio 2,817 -42.6% Regular
21 Suzuki Solio 2,678 No data Regular
22 Nissan Cube 2,611 -32.8% Regular
23 Toyota Passo 2,544 -58.2% Regular
24 Toyota Voxy 2,278 -61.1% Regular
25 Suzuki Mr Wagon 2,222 110.2% Mini
26 Suzuki Swift 2,170 -34.1% Regular
27 Mitsubishi eK-Wagon 2,097 -6.9% Mini
28 Subaru Impreza 2,047 53.1% Regular
29 Toyota Wish 2,032 -49.5% Regular
30 Mazda AZ-Wagon 1,923 -4.7% Mini
31 Toyota Noah 1,839 -60.8% Regular
32 Nissan Juke 1,780 No data Regular
33 Nissan Tiida 1,766 -54.7% Regular
34 Nissan X-TRAIL 1,601 -24.5% Regular
35 Toyota Estima 1,526 -49.3% Regular
36 Suzuki Every Wagon 1,493 15.9% Mini
37 Toyota Crown 1,460 -48.5% Regular
38 Mazda Premacy 1,390 -24.7% Regular
39 Mitsubishi Delica 1,390 No data Regular
40 Subaru Legacy 1,389 -25.8% Regular
41 Daihatsu Esse 1,348 -40.9% Mini
42 Subaru Stella 1,320 -24.7% Mini
43 Toyota Mark X 1,263 -51.0% Regular
44 Toyota Vellfire 1,227 -68.9% Regular
45 Honda Insight 1,152 -63.5% Regular

With the help of Frau Schmitto-san, the statistics of both organizations and the Japanese  names of the cars have been translated into English and combined on a best effort basis. The data are provided “as is” with no express or implied warranty for accuracy. Frau Schmitto-san has done her utmost to ensure that the material and calculations displayed are accurate. However, errors may occur. TTAC, its employees and agents accept no responsibility or liability for any incorrect material. With a little nihongo and Excel, you can create your own.

]]> 6
Japan Restores Three Class System. For Cars Thu, 03 Feb 2011 09:21:13 +0000

Japan has – as the confused reader of our monthly sales report from the Land of Nippon is woefully aware of – a two class car system. There are cars, and there are kei cars. Soon, there will be a three class system.

According to The Nikkei [sub], next year the Japanese government will introduce standards for “supercompacts.” Those are two-seat passenger cars, a class lower than minivehicles. Minivehicles, or kei cars, equipped with black-on-yellow tags, enjoy favorable tax and insurance treatment in Japan. They are limited by size and to a 0.66 liter engine.

The new “supercompact” two-seaters will not be allowed on highways. Because they aren’t, the thinking goes that they can be less crashworthy. Relaxed safety standards could lower their cost. Supposedly, there is “rising demand among people who drive only in the city and from older Japanese seeking an easy way to run neighborhood errands.”

According to The Nikkei, “domestic carmakers believe there is excellent potential demand for two-seaters. Not only do they appeal to elderly people looking for a convenient tool for running errands, but they also offer the benefit of lower carbon-dioxide emissions and can help ease traffic congestion in cities.”

They better check their ownership statistics.

The fortunes of minivehicles in Japan are fading. At one time, their combined share was 1/3 of Japan’s market. In the past years, they have not kept up with the market. What is particularly shocking is that minivehicles are predominantly a rural phenomenon in Japan. In rural areas with poor public transportation, over 90 percent of the households own a minivehicle. In cities like Tokyo, ownership drops to 10 percent. Here, you either own a real car, or none. As far as shopping goes: Even parking a bicycle turns into a problem.

]]> 12
Winterkorn: No 13th Brand For VW Sat, 19 Dec 2009 18:05:08 +0000 Winterkorn, sending the wrong signals. Picture courtesy

VW CEO  Martin Winterkorn is a superstitious man. He doesn’t want to add a 13th brand to his (or rather Piech’s) large collection. (Coincidentally, 12 is the number of Piech’s children. More or less. Nobody is quite sure,) “There are some who knock on our door. Some really want to come under our roof as they see we’re on a good path strategically. But we are satisfied with the current line-up,” Winterkorn said to Wirtschaftswoche.  Specifically questioned about Volvo or (gasp) Daimler, Winterkorn answered: „There are many who would like to snuggle in VW’s cozy bed. Thank you, not interested.”  Instead, he’s re-thinking the line-up of his new acquisitions:  “I could imagine a smaller Cayenne derivative. Or a Porsche below the Boxster. This is under discussion.”

As far as synergies with Suzuki go, Winterkorn sees the usual savings when buying parts. (Suppliers, beware the feared Volkswagen-Einkauf.) He can also imagine Kei cars “on the roads of Paris, London, or Bangkok.” What he doesn’t see at all is the rumored Nano-swatter, built by VW & Suzuki: “A Nano is taboo for us. We will never stoop down to a level of a Nano. We have certain standards, for instance when it comes to safety. Suzuki won’t do that either.” Never say never: A low-priced entry model for emerging markets is thinkable for Winterkorn.

Suzuki dealers could also sell VWs. But strictly within the boundaries of racial separation, called Markentrennung at VW: “They have to do that in separate showrooms.”

Winterkorn is looking forward to 2010. He sees a higher market share for VW, especially in the B(R)IC countries. He’s up on the electrification of the car, someday. He’s decidedly down on hydrogen. Reminded that Daimler wants to sell a hydrogen car at the price of a common hybrid by 2015, Winterkorn sneered: “They also had announced production-ready hydrogen cars for 2004.” He doesn’t believe that hydrogen can be made in an environment-friendly way, and he can’t imagine a hydrogen gas station at every corner.

]]> 11