Japanese Kei Car Battling Against High Taxes And Falling Sales

The much-loved Japanese kei car is facing an uphill battle on the back of high taxes for the compact cars.

Short for Kei Jidoasha (light cars), keis have been a staple in Japan’s thriving automotive sector ever since World War II but their popularity is diminishing on the back of government taxes on petrol and sales.

The National reports that a kei-car tax of 50 per cent was introduced in 2014 when the industry reached its annual peak of 2.27 million units. In 2016, sales plummeted to 1.72 million.

Despite the government’s efforts to promote more fuel-efficient vehicles, millions of Japanese remain devoted to kei cars, as do many of the nation’s leading automakers. In fact, many still believe the kei car will continue to play an important part in Japan’s car industry.

“They won’t disappear from the landscape,” said Nissan’s domestic vehicle market vice president Asako Hoshino.

According to Hoshino, kei cars could actually thrive in the years to come thanks to recent downsizing trends in Japan.

“Twenty years ago, cars were a symbol of success, but that is not necessarily the case today. The trend now is to reduce the size,” he said.

Current restrictions on kei cars force them to use motors smaller than 660 cc and to be less than 1.48 meters wide. They may look strange but on average, they’re $6,000 USD cheaper than a conventional car.


  • Craig

    Could it look more like a MINI?

  • brn

    High taxes? My understanding is that their tax rate has been brought in-line with non-Kei cars.

    Kei cars may be battling high taxes, but so are the other cars.

    • Infinite1

      That is correct

  • Krisnadi Imam

    why dont they just make it available for the rest of the world to buy??? they are awesome small cars, made with a very high quality standard, with long list of standard equipment, options, thats before taking account boatload of aftermarket parts. Besides, the internals are mostly shared amongst its make and models. its shouldnt be that hard.

    • Ilbirs

      Maybe not in this shape, but something derived from it, like widening more or less 12 cm (4.7 in) to accomodate a fifth occupant at least for short trips and putting a 1.0 l engine instead of the 0.66 one. Considering the proposed widening and the advances in highly flexible platforms, maybe a same base could give birth to something that fits the kei regulations but also a wider model that is similar in general specs and has a more global appeal. Keep all the packaging solutions that make these cars extremely spacious for such tiny footprint but apply them to this wider proposal and this would even convince a lot of people that are buying bloated models not because they want but because it’s what the market has to sell. Maybe a wave in favor of more rationally sized cars could be created when people realize that something derived from the kei cars does the same a bloated car does (including overall performance) without all the bloating that difficults driving in traffic jams, finding a parking spot, changing lanes in narrow streets, making an U-turn with a single maneuver and many other consequences of having cars that are too big for their categories.

      • supermanuel

        A fundamental element of the Kei Car class is that they are less than 1.48m wide and 3.4m long. They can’t be wider or longer than that. If it is wider or longer then it doesn’t fit the Kei Car regulations and would be an ‘ordinary’ car.

  • Trackhacker

    I wish they were available in Canada! I have a Honda Fit which is great….but that Kei goodness is so tempting and cool 😀

  • Obsequious Lickspittle


    Best current Kei car. I had a Suzuki Cappuccino once and would love this as its spiritual successor (take note Suzuki).

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