***** (K|C|F) *****

[ W H A T    I S    A    K E I – C A R ? ]

A Kei car, K-car, or (軽自動車) kei-jidōsha literally light automobile, is a Japanese category of small car of 660cc or less, which includes passenger cars, microvans, & pickup trucks.  The trucks are known as kei-tora‘ (軽 トラ), tora being a poorly contracted japanese version of the word  truck.  The cars have to adhere to a set length, width, height & weight which is strictly controlled:

 Maximum (as of 1/10/1998): Length 3.4 m (11.2 ft)  Width 1.48 m (4.9 ft)  Height 2.0 m (6.6 ft)

After World War II, the kei-car was born as the public car.  It was in May 1955 that the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) announced a promotional program called the People’s Car.  Their executive summary of the ideal car was described as, A 4-seater with a top speed of 100 kph, priced at ¥150,000 (£1,145)’.

 Related image Related image Related image

The engineers of the Nakajima Aircraft Company developed the first truly successful kei-car (above), the Subaru 360 (1958-1971).

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The Suzuki Wagon R (above), is the best selling kei-car in Japan since 2003 )

Kei cars are designed to comply with Japanese government tax and insurance regulations, and in most rural areas are exempt from the requirement to certify that adequate parking is available.  Some roads are also specifically marked for kei-cars only, due to their narrow width.  This especially advantaged class of cars was developed to promote popular motorisation in the post-war era.  While successful in Japan, the genre is generally too specialised and too small to be profitable in export markets.

[ The  Different  Types  of  Number  Plates ]

Pre 1974 private plateskc4 Pre 1974 commercial plateskc5

Today’s private plateskc1  Commercial plateskc2

Until 31st December 1974, kei-cars used smaller license plates than regular cars (230 × 125 mm).  As of 1975, kei-cars received the medium-sized standard plates (330 × 165 mm). To set them apart from regular-sized cars (not kei), the plates are now yellow & black rather than white & green.

[ T A X A T I O N

ad19  (prices quoted are subject to change)

Vehicle Excise Tax: The taxable amount is 3% of the purchase price, compared to 5% for larger cars.

Automobile Weight Tax: The amount is ¥13,200 (£83) & ¥8,800 (£55) for a 3 & 2 year period respectively, as compared to the ¥18,900 (£119) & ¥12,600 (£79) charged for larger size passenger cars.  The savings are thus more than 30% in both cases.  This weight tax is paid after the vehicle has passed its safety inspection (*shaken).

* Shaken, is a contraction of ‘jidōsha-kensa-tōroku-seido’, meaning automobile inspection registration system, and is the name of the vehicle inspection program in Japan for motor vehicles over 250cc in engine displacement, similar to the MoT in the UK, but much stricter.

Automobile Liability Insurance Premiums (Compulsory Insurance):  A 24-month insurance contract typically costs ¥18,980 (£119) at the time of registration, versus ¥22,470 (£141) for a larger car.

Annual Road Tax:  Tax is based on the engine’s displacement.  Due to the popularity of light cars, a tax was placed on the size of these vehicles called the Light Motor Vehicle Tax.  The car tax on light cars below 1,000 cc is ¥7,200 (£45), or *¥4,000 (£25) for commercial vehicles, some local governments may charge more based on local regulations.

*(¥) The sign ‘¥’ is not Japanese, it is a sign used in the West to denote Yen currency.


To promote the growth of the car industry, as well as to offer an alternative delivery method to small business and shop owners, kei-car standards were created.  Originally limited to a mere 150 cc (100 cc for 2-strokes) in 1949, dimensions and engine size limitations were gradually increased, in 1950, 1951, and 1955, to tempt more manufacturers to produce kei-cars.

1961 – 1962 Suzulight 360 Van: kc20

With the 1955 change to 360cc as the upper limit for 2-strokes, as well as 4-strokes, the class really began taking off, with cars from Suzuki (Suzulight) and then the Subaru 360, the first mass produced kei-car, finally able to fill the people’s need for basic transportation without being too severely compromised.

1969 Honda N360 kc22  1970 Honda Z kc23

The kei-class then went through a period of ever increasing sophistication, with an automatic transmission appearing in the Honda N360 in August 1968, with front disc brakes becoming available on a number of sporting kei-cars, beginning with the Honda Z GS of January 1970.

Daihatsu Fellow Max SSkc24 (Daihatsu 360 in Europe)

Power outputs also kept climbing, reaching a peak in the 40 PS (29 kW/39 hp) Daihatsu Fellow Max SS of July 1970.  Sales increased steadily, reaching a peak of 750,000 in 1970.  Throughout the 1970’s, the government kept whittling away at the benefits offered to kei-class vehicles, which combined with ever stricter emissions standards, lowered sales drastically through the first half of the decade.  Honda & Mazda withdrew from the contracting passenger kei-car market, in 1974 & 1976 respectively, although they both maintained a limited offering of commercial vehicles.

[ Since WWll, engine sizes have changed 3 times ]

Suzulight 360 kc26 Daihatsu 550 kc27 Smart 660 kc28

The 360cc era (1949-1975) | 550cc era (1976-1990) | 660cc era (1990~)

You may have noticed that some kei-cars bear stickers or magnetic signs on the front and rear of the car, these are explained below:

Shoshinsha Wakaba sign: Related image (for new drivers up to 1-year)

Kōreisha signs:  Related image (for the over 70’s*)

* Advisory for 70 year old’s, compulsory for 75 years and over.

[ Early  Manufacturers  Include ]

Auto Sandalkc48 Conykc67 Gasuden Hope Starkc97

Kuroganemy81 NJ Tarokc80 Suminoe: kc132

[ Later Manufacturers Include ]

Autozam:  Daihatsum11 HondaHonda Life 1998 Rear.jpg Mazdacc126

Mitsubishikc158 Subarumy104 Suzuki: kc163



Micro-trucks are known as kei-tora, being a poorly contracted version of the English word  truck (torakku).  They cost as little as ¥1,000,000  (£6,400) or less !!

[ The main manufacturers, models and No of Generations ]

Related image   (1960 ~Daihatsu Hijet (10G’s)   kt2

 Related image (1977 ~Honda Acty (4G’s)    kt3

Related image   (1966 ~Mitsubishi Minicab (8G’s)   kt5

emblem3画像(1961 ~Subaru Sambar (7G’s)   

Related image   (1961 ~Suzuki Carry (11G’s)   kt7


K E I  |  S P O R T S  |  C A R S

The sports micro-car was born after the bubble boom in the latter years of the 1980’s.

[ Saloon  cars  with  sporting  pretensions ]

1968 Suzuki Fronte SS: ss36  1969 Subaru Young SSss35

1970 Honda Z Coupépp31  1971 Suzuki Fronte Coupé: ss78

1987 Suzuki Alto Works RS-Rss88  1989 Daihatsu Mira TR-XX: Related image

1989 Mitsubishi Minica Dangan ZZ-4ss77  1992 Subaru Vivio RX-RAsp23


[ Production  Sports  Cars ]

Suzuki Cappuccinoss19 ss17 (1991 – 1997)

Honda Beatss4ss5 (1991 – 1998)

Autozam AZ-1ss37ss44 (1992 – 1995)

Daihatsu Copen 1Gss60ss49 (2002 – 2012)

Daihatsu Copen 2Gss66ss62 (2014 ~)

Honda S660kc62ss69 (2015 ~)

Caterham Seven 160: Image result for caterham seven 160 Image result for caterham seven 160 (2016 ~)


&  not  forgetting  the  Image result for 4x4 logo‘s . . .

Suzuki Jimny LJ10 001.JPG  (1970 ~) Suzuki Jimny (3G’s)  

  (1994 – 2012) Mitsubishi Pajero  


The 1989 Mitsubishi Minica Dangan ZZ (pictured earlier) has a 657cc turbocharged 3-cylinder engine with 5-valves per cylinder that revs to 9,500 rpm and a computer-controlled AWD system.  It later appeared in the 440 bhp Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution !!

It’s well known that Japanese micro-cars make good test beds for their larger brothers !!

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