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Kei cars coming to North America as Smart Car Killers?

There is the possibility! Clearly they would have to meet safety and North American standards (read: not as RHD), but it'd sure be neat! The car in question is the Mitsubishi i, which is actually bigger than the Smart ForTwo.  I really hope that they leave the engine as is, personally, since I feel that North American cars have more power than most people need!
Check out this Edmunds.com video if you are interested.



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Kei Vehicles

A somewhat new sight on North American roads are Kei class vehicles.  These vehicles come in many forms including trucks, vans and even cute little cars. They are cars that qualify for special insurance rates in Japan, much like scooters have in most provinces.  There are restrictions on the vehicle's height, length, weight, power and engine size.  Due to these restrictions the vehicles, especially the trucks, are quite utilitarian.  It's quite obvious why Japan would encourage the use of these vehicles in Japan.  Their emissions are minimal and they're small. If your country has a dense population like Japan the benefits are huge.

The really great things about these vehicles is the options.  Since they're so limited in so many ways the manufacturers have beefed them up in different ways.  Most of the trucks have options like Four Wheel Drive with diff lock. Some of the trucks have factory dump truck beds (which is ridiculous and amazing to watch) and... AM radios.  I listen to a lot of CBC now.

Kei Cars

Nissan Figaro

The cars are much less utilitarian, and easily the cutest vehicles on the road.  The Nissan Figaro is the prime example of this. It's the first right hand drive car I remember seeing.  It blew my mind in how it didn't look  like any car I'd ever seen in real life.  If Minnie Mouse drove a car in real life, this would be it. And that's not an insult. Honestly, I'm not sure if it's actually a Kei car, since it has a 1L engine, which is larger than the 660cc limit on Kei vehicles, but otherwise it meets the requirements. If it's not it deserves an honorable mention.

Honda Beat

One car that for sure meets the Kei restrictions is the Honda Beat.  A little convertible roadster that shows that a 660cc and 65hp limit doesn't mean it can't be flashy.  I've seen one of these booting around Winnipeg and was quite impressed.  It has the Civic styling with an inline 3 motor.  The engine is mounted behind the driver for a mid engine, rear wheel drive layout. Due to the mid engine mount the car has great weight distribution and fantastic handling. Just because it's a Kei car doesn't mean that it can't be excessively fun.

Kei Trucks

A mini truck

Daihatsu Hijet

This post wouldn't be complete without a photo of a minitruck.  Kei trucks are the workhorse of Japan.  They're small, goofy looking and amazing.  They can haul about as much as a 1/4 ton truck, can convert into a flatbed and many have four wheel drive. I drive mine (which is the photo) year round in Winnipeg.  The four wheel drive handles the Manitoban deep freeze handily.  The problem with the trucks is that they're geared down more than the cars.  I have a 4 speed in my truck and 100km/h is a bit of a chore. The five speeds are more capable of running at highway speeds. The road noise is an issue for some people. The road noise is pretty noticeable due to the (usually) mid mounted engine. It's right behind the driver and there is very little noise dampening material.  Apparently the Subaru Sambar is better than other mini trucks in this regard. It has a rear mounted 4 cylinder as opposed to a mid mounted 3 cylinder.  It apparently can do highway speeds handily and isn't too noisy to boot. Parts are the real issue with the (and all) Subarus.

Kei Vans

Mitsubishi Bravo

Mitsubishi Bravo

The last type of Kei vehicle is the micro van.  This name has always cracked me up since the trucks are called mini trucks but the vans are micro vans being that mini van was taken. These vans are basically the same as the trucks, sharing many components.  They often have four wheel drive with diff lock, just like the trucks. They have much more luxury features like power retracting glass roofs, power windows and nice upholstery  (which is very much lacking in the kei trucks).  I haven't heard if they are slow like the trucks, but I can only assume that they run about the same speeds as the trucks.


Here are the specifications that Kei vehicles must adhere to.

  • Maximum Length: 3.3 m
  • Maximum Width: 1.4 m
  • Maximum Height: 2 m
  • Maximum Engine Size: 660cc
  • Maximum Horsepower: 63 hp

As taken from Wikipedia, so take it as a grain of salt.
Kei cars are fun, different and hilariously fun. Kids point and laugh at my little red truck regularly since it looks like a big toy. And well, it is! And I love it for that. If you're looking for a right hand drive, don't overlook a Kei car as an option. If you're just booting around the city you can't go wrong.

For an incomplete list of Kei cars click here for Kei trucks click here and for Kei vans click here.