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The Kei Car trend in Japan

Updated on April 16, 2015

Suzuki Husler

You either love them or hate them. The Japanese apparently love them, since 40% of new cars sold in Japan are Kei cars.

The world Kei comes from the symbol 軽 which in Japanese means light. Recent Kei cars have an engine size of 660 cc and are very extremely small and compact in design. Many models have a turbo engine which gives them a motorbike type start.

They are only in Japan as they were designed and domestic cars and don’t meet the safety standards overseas however some people have managed to export them.


You may be thinking that a 660cc engine is too weak and slow for any decent driving. On the highway I have seen Kei cars doing around 75-80 mph which is more than enough for day to day driving. Especially when the traffic is almost at a standstill anyway around populated areas. It may take some time to get up to 80 mph however it seems that the average Japanese driver is not interested in racing anybody.

The standard 660 cc Kei Car does have a noticeable lack of power compared to say a 1300 compact car especially when going up hills and with the A/C on however, the turbocharger versions are a very good improvement especially for acceleration.


Personally I don’t think Kei Cars are the prettiest in terms of design due to the squashed looking front and back however there are some decent models, especially with the sports kit. The Honda N-Box has quite a neat design and is rather spacious for a Kei-Car.

Many families have Kei Cars in Japan, I have even seen 5 member families in Kei Cars but that would be pushing the limit. 5 people in a standard compact car can even be tight.

See below for some very popular Kei Cars in Japan

Suzuki Husler

Suzuki Alto

Daihatsu Tanto


Up until recently, tax was very low for Kei Cars which encouraged many buyers. Car tax is very high in Japan for standard size cars. The problem is, the large number of Kei Car sales is said to be hurting the standard car industry with a knock on effect to the economy as the country is not get as much tax from their citizens. Due to this, the tax of Kei cars has risen by almost 50% bringing it in line with standard size cars. Many people say that this is unfair since the low price of kei cars and lower tax meant that the lower income households could easily afford a car.

A brand new Kei Car can cost around $5,000 to $6,000 as opposed to a compact car $12,000 - $20,000 in Japan. A very good condition used kei car can be picked up for as little as $2,000 - $3,000.

Exporting Kei Cars

The main obstacle in exporting Kei Cars is the fact the it is difficult to switch the steering wheel from the left to the right side without having to re-arrange the whole engine room from scratch. There are actually some cars in the west with a Kei design but they just have bigger engines and of course a bigger overall size.

There are actually many foreigners in Japan from countries such as Pakistan, India and places in Africa who do Japanese cars exporting as a business to their own countries. Some are very successful.

The main thing people are concerned about with Kei Cars is how they survive a collision. The smaller and lighter the car, the more damage it will receive. Not only that, there is more chance of you getting trapped inside twisted wreckage in a smaller car.


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    • Hezekiah profile image

      Hezekiah 3 years ago from Japan

      Thanks. Not a car for me personally but some of them are cool.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

      Thank you for introducing the Kei Car. I think its pretty and with reasonable cost, I wouldn't complain about the power, if I had one. Good article and voted up!