By on February 3, 2011

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.

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