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Built for young families, minicars attract a huge following among elderly drivers

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By Naomi Tajitsu

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All of Japan's major automakers sell the no-frills, fuel-sipping vehicles,

No thrills? Author has no idea what they are talking about. I have 2 kei's in the family, very economical for down here in Okinawa. I'll just give a few of examples of "no thrills"! Heads up display on the dash, drive recorder, great stereo system, oh not to mention, "mild-hybrid" an engine that runs on both battery and gas, giving it even better mileage, my wife gets around 22 km/l in her Suzuki, drive recorder, kick ass A/C, which is as must in Okinawa, and a bunch of other stuff too.

Oh the better makers on the market are Suzuki and Daihatsu!

8 ( +9 / -1 )

"mild-hybrid" an engine that runs on both battery and gas, giving it even better mileage, my wife gets around 22 km/l in her Suzuki,

A Honda Fit (non-hybrid) will net you better gas mileage than that, with more space to boot (pun intended), and it won’t fold up like Bacofoil if you run into anything larger than a particularly aggressive bee.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

A Honda Fit (non-hybrid) will net you better gas mileage than that

A Honda fit isn't a kei either. Oh the advertised mileage for the Suzuki's are 34 km/l. But that's test conditions and this is Okinawa, the island with traffic lights every 50 to 100 meters in many places!

2 ( +3 / -1 )

A Honda Fit (non-hybrid) will net you better gas mileage than that

I doubt that, I have driven a Fit and the average is only 15 km/L; probably could reach 20 km/L but that's strictly on highway. Although I agree about the boot space, Fit is small but amazingly spacious.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I too am shopping for a smaller car. It just makes sense when you are over a certain age. I've had my fun in all kinds of cars and now I just need something sensible that can haul small cargo, is peppy and gets good gas mileage. Not to mention most new cars, even the base economy models, now come with safety features unheard of just 10 years ago in cheaper cars.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

The Honda Fit is not a Kei-car. I drove a Daihatsu Kanto for 13 years and while easy to drive in the city, it was a terror on the highways. I also had to pull aside all the time to let cars go by because I couldn't keep up with the traffic. I would think twice about getting one of these. Your shoulders pretty much touch the side of the car. If anyone hits you, it's almost guaranteed that you will be hit as well. There is no crumple space. I am glad they are putting high tech features in them now, but I wonder if they have room even for side impact curtain airbags?

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I love kei cars/vans/trucks. I've had 5 keis since the 90s and they've saved me trillions of yen in gas, insurance and taxes.

But it's not only about the money, but the excellent performance of these vehicles. I've had kei turbos the last two times and they're like little rockets.

Easy to fit in any small space and easy to pass oncoming cars on really narrow roads.

They've been designed to be roomier inside, too so they're not so cramped as they used to be in the 80s.

Got a good looking snazzy Suzuki Scrum Wagon (which is the exact same vehicle as a Suzuki Every Wagon) and love it to bits.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I also think that Japan needs to readjust the requirement specificaitons for Kei cars by raising the power and size at least a little.

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ArtitsAtLarge:

You can spec a turbo version.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Big market

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Yubaru: No thrills? Author has no idea what they are talking about.

Totally AGREE with this. Kei cars are anything but no-frills, especially the newest ones. I come from a third-world country in Southeast Asia and when I drove a kei car in Japan for the first time, I was amazed at all the features offered; one of them is Adaptive Cruise Control, which would control the speed of the car automatically, something that folks in my country could only dream of.

You want the real no-frills car? Come to my country, where even the basic safety features such as airbags or even ABS are stripped off and sold with a higher price tag than cars in Japan. Most Japanese car companies in developing countries are ripping people off with schemes like this (I'm looking at you Toyota!)

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I refuse to ride in them.

Cheap, yep.... but death traps in an accident.

Seen way too many crumbled k-car wrecks that have taken a life, yet the other vehicle occupants walk away with nothing more than shock.

60kph impacts with another vehicle and a good chance you will say hello to your maker.

There is a reason they are cheap and can not be sold in other countries with decent saftety standards.

Cheap K cars = lower quality steel/metal etc and less of it is used in them.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

I would rather buy Toyota's Prius. "Kei" looks like toy cars and in case of collision accidents.... ?

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With their 660cc engines - a size more common in motorcycles than cars - minicars are considered too small for most overseas markets.

If my memory serves me right the Fiat had an engine similar in size to the keis and they were extremely popular in Egypt where I lived for a few years. In heavily populated areas, these small cars would be very popular, because they are fuel efficient and they are generally small so they can be easily parked anywhere.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Daihatsu Kanto for 13 years

Do you mean Tanto? My wife had one too and here it was perfect for the roads!

Cheap, yep.... but death traps in an accident.

There are by far more accidents with "regular" cars here than with kei, and highway accidents, down here at least, are extremely rare, so they are perfect for Okinawa.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The main reason I dislike Keis is that they all look the same, just cheap boxy cars. Is there some rule that they all have to look the same or something? Surely there must be a way to spec it out so that it still meets kei guidelines but actually resembles something more like a smaller sedan instead of a mini station wagon.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I want to get a Suzuki Jimny but the fact that it's a k-jidosha kind puts me a bit off.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I'll take a Kei over a Prius any day, not just because the Kei is more friendly to the environment compared to all the lithium and circuits in the Prius. As far as safety is concerned I ride a motorcycle too so it's a moot point. Honestly, if you're traveling by yourself or have to have a vehicle for a commute a bike is a very good way to go.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Kei's are great for what they are & there are some very fun options! I have a Copen in addition to 2 other Kei's(one for the mrs & one for hauling stuff), the Copen is great fun zipping around, speedometer goes to 140km, hit that & it has a speed limiter, cant go any faster. And great driving with the top down in good weather!

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I had a turbo Atrai a few years ago. It got around 16k to the liter. However, I was terrified of driving it. It felt like I was driving around in an aluminum can. They have zero side impact support or crumple zones front and back. If you have an accident in one, even at low speed, you can kiss your tooshy good bye!

I now have a Honda StepWgn non-Hybrid, but it has ‘eco-drive’, which shuts off two cyclinders when it can. I get much better fuel consumption with it than the Atrai. Plus, it feels like I’m driving a car and not a glass slipper.

I will never ever own another K-car. Yeah, they are cheap to run and register, but if you have an accident in one you could very well end up paying the ultimate price - your life!

Most countries won’t import these toy cars because of their lack of accident strength.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

The first car I bought in Japan was a Nissan Dayz Highway Star Turbo K. I got it for my wife's first car and it was a really well equipped little thing, fun to drive as well. As the family grew and we went out of town more on the weekends, I started to feel they aren't safe for families, especially on motorways, so I got rid of it and got a car I wanted. Kei's are great for running low speed short journeys though but unfortunately most of them are death traps on wheels.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

They're popular because the government financially punishes owners of regular class cars. The "happoshu" of the car world.

Create a level playing field, and let's see how "popular" these fancy go-karts become.

The kei technical standard was drawn up by postwar bureaucrats, not engineers, for farming vehicles, and it should have been tossed out ages ago.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

In basic terms, there are two types of kei, turbos and non-turbos.

The turbos drive like a non-turbo 1000-1300cc car and are fine on the highway and steep hills. The fuel economy is the same as a 1000-1300cc car like a Fit, albeit for a smaller vehicle.

The non-turbos are cheaper to buy but noticeably lack power. Any kei that gets 20km/l in real world conditions will not have a turbo. I've driven a kei with "idle stop" for improved economy, but the engine restart is so jerky than I bet most people turn it off. Engine starts and stops are barely noticable in fifteen year old hybrids.

All keis are four-seaters by law and will not have three seatbelts in the back. You can carry three kids up to twelve legally in the back seat, but one child will have no seatbelt.

The "tall one-box" keis like the Tanto and N-Box have almost Tardis like headroom. I've owned an Elgrand and Alphard, big luxury-end people carriers, and a Tanto feels like it has more headroom at the driver's seat.

In short, they are not bad cars, but they are not worthy of special tax treatment. No way! That should be based on CO2 emissions, not engine size.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

I doubt that, I have driven a Fit and the average is only 15 km/L; probably could reach 20 km/L but that's strictly on highway

Heavy right foot? I drive a Fit and regularly get 23 km/l and that’s in traffic.

Keep the engine revs below 2,000 and you’re good to go.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

These are OK on the regular roads, and ideal for the narrow country lanes, but a problem on the highways. Narrow chassis, small high-profile wheels and tall bodies lend to instability at 'speed' and swerving in strong side winds; while car are seen struggling to maintain speeds in the outer lanes, blocking traffic and causing road rage. I frequently drive the Tomei Expressway between Kanto and Kansai, and watch these being blown across lanes when crossing open bridges; and encounter many traffic hold ups, caused by a Kei struggling to overtake a truck or other car, and see drivers retaliate by cutting them off or tailgating them.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

The main reason I dislike Keis is that they all look the same, just cheap boxy cars. Is there some rule that they all have to look the same or something? Surely there must be a way to spec it out so that it still meets kei guidelines but actually resembles something more like a smaller sedan instead of a mini station wagon.

The reason they all look the same is because the weight requirements/size requirements for something to be legally classified as a Kei car means that to fit more than 2 people it is inevitably going to become a box. Couple that with the want for something roomy and a box is the best solution. There are however, some really nice looking boxes. Like the Nissan Roox, (which is actually a rebranded mitsubishi) or the Daihatsu Cast.

If you dont mind just having two seats than you have the Honda S660 or the Daihatsu copen, both of which are an absolute joy to drive.

My next car will probably be a Kei, because I dont see the need to have something that fits 7 people when Im a bachelor and I really prefer practicality. Only downside is that they are basically useless in a place that gets any sort of snow fall lol

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@Kniknaknokkaer - Kei's are great for running low speed short journeys though but unfortunately most of them are death traps on wheels.

Most accidents happen within 5k of home.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

who said they look the same? LOL.. i drive a 11 years old Nissan Pino with the k6A engine. i drive almost 400kms per week going from Yokohama to Abiko all shitamichi and got around 13kms/liter, not bad for me. save a lot of money from road tax, shaken and gas than my standard white plate car before. I save almost 300,000Yen every 2 years.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Target market as it is biggest market.  Less and less "young families" in Japan.  Kei cars are ok, but not great for long distance travel.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Box cars great and good height for tall people like myself

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I am sad I love my Kei car. But now I have three cars one has to go, so I stick to Subaru

0 ( +0 / -0 )

roughly half the owners of the most recent model are 50 or older.

Isn't true of every domestic car in Japan???

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After driving "regular cars" for the past 40 years or so I got me a Suz.... Every.

All we need. Lots of space, enough power thanks to a turbo engine and the gas-mileage isn't that bad either.

And why in the world do you want a 150, 200 or even more HP vehicle when your max authorized speed is 100 km/h?

0 ( +2 / -2 )

@ShinCebu - I save almost 300,000Yen every 2 years.

Yep, and you gamble with your life every day. You are very lucky not to have had an accident in that time. However, the thing about luck is, eventually it runs out. - Most 4 cylinder cars get much better mileage than 13k P/L. My Stepwgn gets around 16-18k P/L with eco-drive, so you are not really saving anything on gas. The road tax is lower by around 20% (¥5,000 at the most). I do my shaken myself and it costs me around ¥75,000 for two years. I think your estimated savings of ¥300,000 over two years are a bit of an exaggeration.

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

Can any of those claiming Kei cars are dangerous provide stats on this? I'm not saying you're wrong, but at this point I've heard it repeated so many times without evidence that I wonder if it's just an urban legend. I'm open to being convinced.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I would rather buy Toyota's Prius. "Kei" looks like toy cars and in case of collision accidents.... ?

I don't understand the love affair that so many people have with the Prius, outside of the mileage it gets as a hybrid, the car stinks. I have more leg room driving in a Kei than a Prius, more comfortable as well, and not to mention that the blind spots on a Prius are dangerous as well.

Let's not even mention that it's costs a crap-load of money to replace a battery on a Prius if anything ever goes wrong.

Kind of the "follow the leader" mentality often seen here in Japan.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Yep, and you gamble with your life every day. You are very lucky not to have had an accident in that time. However, the thing about luck is, eventually it runs out. - Most 4 cylinder cars get much better mileage than 13k P/L. My Stepwgn gets around 16-18k P/L with eco-drive, so you are not really saving anything on gas. The road tax is lower by around 20% (¥5,000 at the most). I do my shaken myself and it costs me around ¥75,000 for two years. I think your estimated savings of ¥300,000 over two years are a bit of an exaggeration.

You gamble walking across the street everyday too! And sounds to me that someone isn't being a smart driver if they think that someone is "lucky" just because they drive a kei to not have had an accident! I've been driving here well over 30 years, and the ONLY accident I had was when I was driving a "regular" car.

Road tax for a Kei just went up to ¥10,000 so it's a savings of roughly ¥25,000 or more depending on what you drive. Shaken for a Kei is only ¥30,000 which covers the jibaiseki, and shaken, so while ¥300,000 may be a "bit" of an exaggeration, it's still a hell of a lot of money saved, not to mention insurance is cheaper, no "parking stickers" required for many location (shako-shomei) easier to find parking spaces, and like I said with mine, I get over 20km/l, so yeah Kei's are economical and safer than most people think.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

Nissan Micra? Or Honda Jazz? For First time learner for Young Woman?

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Nissan Micra? Or Honda Jazz? For First time learner for Young Woman?

Both of them are not even kei cars...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

lets face it K cars are cheap to buy compared to other models and cheap to run , registration insurance and dont require police parking cetificates. I wouldnt let my family drive in one, way too little crash impact zones around the car and in the front, better to purchase a good 2~3yr old larger model. Look back at the bubble years hardly anybody drove K cars because they could arffords larger more luxurious models, K cars are just a car manufactrutered for the times and economic condition of the population.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Best name for a kei....

Mitsubishi's "La Puta"!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Most 4 cylinder cars get much better mileage than 13k P/L. My Stepwgn gets around 16-18k P/L with eco-drive, 

Japanese with 1500cc StepWagons report the fuel economy at about 10km/l.

https://e-nenpi.com/enenpi/carname/1412

Its a turbo, so the fuel economy of it being 1500cc is mostly lost, as with the kei turbos. Thanks to road tax being cc based though, you get to pay less than other people carriers. It must be more fun than another 2000cc van, like a Voxy or old StepWagon, to drive. They feel underpowered.

Apparently the 2000cc hybrid StepWagon is even faster, 0-100 in 8 seconds, which is impressive for a big thing that will carry loads and looks like a freezer. That's probably faster than some of the legendary old sporty Hondas car nuts would go crazy for.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Japanese with 1500cc StepWagons report the fuel economy at about 10km/l.

I have a 2008 2ltr Stepwgn and I get 16-18k around town and on trips coz the eco-drive cuts out two cylinders. Admittedly, I don’t have a heavy foot nor do I drive like a freaking ratbag trying to break land speed records.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Wish we had Kei cars here in the UK... I drive the smallest Honda available here, a Jazz (Fit) and it's not that small. A friend of mine in Japan has one of these and despite the external appearance inside it has a surprising amount of room.

I want one :)

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Kei cars can be any shape, but many, perhaps the vast majority are boxes. Proof of their popularity is the fact that second-hand prices tend to be strong.

Like a small extra room, in an emergency the boxy ones can act as a mobile living unit. It has been shown that prolonged cramped sleeping in ordinary car seats can bring on Economy-class Syndrome blood clots in the legs. With a box car, even a Kei, two people can lie down flat to sleep.

Mini cars driven by the elderly generally observe the very low speed limits here (40 kph), so accident crumple will only be severe when hit by something larger and faster, like a bus, truck or train, or a concrete telephone pole.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Driving behind a Kei Car, torture. Yes the owners are ancient and yes the left turn light is on most of the time. If they have the old person sticker on the car then you know you will be late for where you are planning to go. For sure. Interesting fact about the cause of the majority of accidents in Japan.

That has led to an increase in traffic accidents involving drivers older than 65, even as the overall number of accidents has decreased. Last year, older drivers were involved in 55 percent of the country's accidents, up from about 47 percent 10 years ago.

There you go. Many posters on this topic state incorrectly that young people are the cause of most accidents in Japan. How wrong that turns out to be. Its the 80 year old in the Kei car that is most likely to run you over.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Talk about getting off the hook.

Automakers had hoped high-tech options would attract younger buyers to minicars

...... not when they’re that ugly. Sorry I just can’t be nice enough and say they’re not.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Minicars are just expensive go-carts. Just horrible, get them off the road.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

In an accident they are death traps-no thanks!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

One of the reason for k-car’s big sellers is advantageous taxes. AVOIDING any more piled taxes for cars!!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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