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A​ Brief History of The Kei Car

A​nd why more of the world should've adapted them

1y ago
13.3K

J​apan 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.

F​ollowing 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.

W​ealth 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.

T​his 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.

T​he 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.

T​he 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.

I​t 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.

A​nd 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.

S​adly, 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.

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Comments (21)

  • Honda n box and toyota tank are seriously cool

      1 year ago
  • USA should sell these cars

      1 year ago
  • I think the Japanese have shown remarkable creativity with the whole Kei car thing. Government, car companies, designers. Maybe they are derivative elsewhere, but not here.

      1 year ago
    • It’s certainly proof of what can be achieved through collective effort. A shame that most are too profit-orientated to devise similar ideas

        1 year ago
  • I’m a true driver, so my ideal garage looks like a kei car for everyday driving and a Porsche for the weekends. Since I can only responsibly own one car, I have a fast, reliable Infiniti sedan instead. I love the idea of the kei just like I love the mini, but I’m not convinced its practical for most folks.

      1 year ago
    • Sadly true. But as far as economy goes- you can’t beat it. Especially if all you need is an A to B cruiser.

        1 year ago
    • Yep, and you have to admit they have character. They may be boring to drive, but they aren’t boring!

        1 year ago
  • Had a 70’s Honda Coupe which we used as an escape pod in a matching Orange 75 Chevy Van

    Only problem with the Honda: If you closed any door too hard, the rear window would pop out.

      1 year ago
    • Haha! Happily build quality is better these days. Though the lack of weight was certainly a fun factor

        1 year ago
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