Wordy Wednesday #220 “Portrait of a Kei Car”


One of the joys of the Tokyo Motor Show, at least for us Americans, is that we get to see cars from around the world that are not imported into the USA. In addition to French cars, which have not been sold in the USA since the 1991 Peugeot 405— Columbo drove a Peugeot 403—you also get to see Asian cars that never make it here, such as the class of automobile know as kei cars. The above image was made at the show and while I don’t remember the manufacturer’s name, it sure is cute.

A kei car or kei jidōsha (“light automobile”) is a category of Japanese small vehicles, including passenger cars, vans and pickup trucks designed to comply with Japanese government tax and insurance regulations. The cars feature yellow license plates with black numbers for private use and yellow numbers on black background for commercial use. Because regulations only restrict physical size and engine displacement (currently 660cc), manufacturers have introduced many technologies associated with larger vehicles to the class. Kei cars are often available with forced-induction engines, automatic and CV transmissions, front-, rear-, and four-wheel drive, air conditioning, GPS, and other features.

While successful in Japan, the genre is considered to be too specialized and small to be profitable in export markets, which is why we rarely see them here. One kei car that has a large cult following here and in the UK is Nissan’s Figaro that was only manufactured for one year—1991. Because of the USA’s 25-year import rule, Figaros are now entering the country. And just between you and me, I would love to own one.

If you like cars and automobile photography, please visit my website/blog JoeFaraceShootsCars.com.

Author: Joe Farace

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