A Brief History of The Kei Car
And why more of the world should've adapted them
Japan has always been a nation of innovation and has had an unorthodox take on many things, at least from a westerners point of view. You only need to take one look at anime, or even a brief foray into the culture to realise that they're just a bit different from every other nation in the world. Though certainly not in a bad way.
Following the end of the second world war, most of the world set about repairing the damage caused by devastating warfare, lost lives (and subsequently, workforce), and the overall rebuilding of society. Japan was no different of course. But while the USA for one was enjoying huge cars with even bigger engines, things weren't so plentiful in the far east.
Wealth wasn't widespread, and most people couldn't afford to buy a car for daily use. In come the Japanese government in 1949 with the introduction of the Kei Car - a car like any other, except its small, with an even smaller engine - a whopping 150cc.
This car segment slowly established itself in the market, and benefitted from increased engine displacement limitations over the decades - with the last being up to 660cc in the 90's, and still remains today. The Japanese also introduced emissions regulations much earlier than the rest of the world - and as a result it didn't have the easiest introduction to life in an ever growing economic segment. But survive it did, and remains a popular choice amongst buyers today.
The cars initially also benefitted from lower tax brackets, and if all you needed was a run around or something for commuting on not a great budget, something in this segment would've been right up your alley.
The taxes were raised slightly within the last decade which meant the advantages were minimised, but beyond the governments cut, the kei car could've done well around the world in a time where we needed drastic measures to survive.
It benefits in Tokyo for example - a city notorious for lack of space, and on a small island in general, it makes sense to reduce your footprint overall to accommodate everyone else. Though you could import a Ford F150 and become virtually a lorry to those around you, it makes little sense to compensate for other areas in your life especially in a culture which frowns upon that.
And dont assume that these were boring either - Honda for example made the Beat in the early 90's and continue to make its successor - the S660 today. It was so popular in fact, that its entire production of just over 8000 units sold out in the first four months back in 2015.
I would like to believe that the Kei car would've been a much more welcome alternative to something like London's ULEZ - giving the motorist a choice in the matter rather than aiming straight for their wallet seems a fairer deal.
Volkswagen proved that small cars could be cool with "the peoples car" - the Golf. Fiat did too, with the humble 500, and not to forget, the ever popular Mini, before they were made by BMW of course.
Sadly, cars of this size are much too small for a world that seems to want bigger and bigger, even in a time of depleting resources. But even if the motor car is one day a thing of the past, at least we can look back at these tiny things and cant say we that we didn't at least try.