April 1st, 2010

So what is all this Kei car fuss about?

If you follow motormorph on Twitter (@motormorph), you’ll be familiar with our popular Kei of the Day game. But why the fuss? And what is a Kei car, anyway?

Well the ‘k-car,’ or to give it it’s full title, keijidōsha, is a ‘light vehicle.’ This Japanese curio must have an engine of under 660cc, be less than 1.5 metres wide, less than 3.4  metres long, and produce no more than 63bhp. These numbers have changed over time; the original restrictions, introduced in 1949, restricted capacity to a mere 150cc!

These restrictions make for cheaper insurance and tax, as well as lower running costs. But despite what appear to be fairly tight limitations, some of Japans most interesting vehicles are k-cars. Because only size, capacity and power are restricted, manufacturers often fit some of the most high tech gadgetry imaginable to their k-cars, including 4WD, intercooled turbochargers, and composite materials.

Take the AZ-1. This car was built by Suzuki and sold by Mazda as an Autozam. It had gullwing doors, a mid-mounted DOHC 12v 3 cylinder engine, and plastic bodywork to save weight. Also insane is the Mitsubishi Minica Dangan ZZ-4. This had 5 valves per cylinder, multi-point fuel injection, was turbocharged, intercooled, and have full time AWD. All this and only 550ccs!

But K-cars should be far more than entertaining sideshow toys. Think about how much congested London would benefit from these tiny, well thought out machines? They’re certainly a far better idea than the G-Wiz. Give them small, free parking spaces. Don’t make them pay the congestion charge, give them a lower tax band and lower insurance. Kei cars work brilliantly in Japan, and they would work just as well in the cities of Britain.

So next time you play Kei of the Day, have a little giggle for sure. But realise that they’re more than just Matchbox toys, they’re some of the most well thought out and well engineered cars ever conceived.

If you would like to play #keioftheday on Twitter, join @motormorph daily at 4PM for all the small car fun.

John Slavin

This article was written by John Slavin, the latest edition to the motormorph team. John Slavin is a lover of all things with an engine, but his first love has always been the car. John started out riding low capacity motorbikes, until eventually scraping together enough for a car. He enjoys nothing quite so much as a morning blast along the joyous Dales roads amongst which he lives, when he’s not writing, at least! You will be hearing more from him so stay tuned. If you want to follow John on Twitter just head over to @Dear_Blank.