Topic: Japan/Car

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Kei Car

Automobiles Japan Japan/Car

Kei car (or keijidōsha, kanji: 軽自動車, "light automobile", pronounced [keːdʑidoːɕa]), known variously outside Japan as Japanese city car, ultramini, or Japanese microcar, is the Japanese vehicle category for the smallest highway-legal passenger cars. Similar Japanese categories exist for microvans, and kei trucks. These vehicles are most often the Japanese equivalent of the EU A-segment (city cars).

The kei-car category was created by the Japanese government in 1949, and the regulations have been revised several times since. These regulations specify a maximum vehicle size, engine capacity, and power output, so that owners may enjoy both tax and insurance benefits. In most rural areas they are also exempted from the requirement to certify that adequate parking is available for the vehicle.

Kei cars have become very successful in Japan, consisting of over one-third of domestic new-car sales in fiscal 2016, despite dropping from a record 40% market share in 2013, after the government increased the kei-car tax by 50% in 2014. In 2018, seven of the 10 top-selling models were kei cars, including the top four, all boxy passenger vans: Honda N-Box, Suzuki Spacia, Nissan Dayz, and Daihatsu Tanto. Isuzu is the only manufacturer that has never offered a kei-sized vehicle for either private ownership or commercial trucks and microvans.

In export markets, though, the genre is generally too specialized and too small for most models to be profitable. Notable exceptions exist, though, for instance the Suzuki Alto and Jimny models, which were exported consistently from around 1980. Kei cars are not only popular with the elderly, but they are also popular with youths because of their affordability.

Nearly all kei cars have been designed and manufactured in Japan, but a version of the French-made Smart was briefly imported and officially classified as a kei car, and since then, the British Caterham 7 160 has also received such classification.

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