Do “Kei” Cars have a Place in a $3.00+ per gallon America?

10 Nov 2014 | Author: | Comments Off on Do “Kei” Cars have a Place in a $3.00+ per gallon America?

Thread: Do Kei Cars have a Place in a $3.00+ per gallon America?

Do Kei Cars have a Place in a $3.00+ per gallon America?

The Other GM Brands: Alliance Partners Suzuki Subaru

Do Kei Cars have a Place in a $3.00+ per Gallon America?

By Ming


When my local gasoline station put up the numbers $3.00 for Premium, I knew I wanted a change. I want something that gets better than an average of 17-22 miles per gallon offered by my Safari van (on a good day) and Bonneville SSEi (on a bad day). My job requires a long and rather boring commute – no room for speed freak antics – so when I go to trade in my Bonneville SSEi, I’m not going to be buying a gas guzzler or even a moderate gas drinker.

Though I will happily keep my 2004 Safari (my 2000 Bonneville is approaching retirement) and use it for all of the utility and power it offers, it isn’t something I want to drive back and forth to work in. I suppose what I want is a fuel efficient, fun, affordable little car. But who says saving gas (and money) needs to mean a stripper, rental grade Focus or Aveo?

Or must require a pricey hybrid system?

The answer I think is in small, nimble, fun to drive yet well designed and well-equipped cars like the 28/36 mpg MINI. But I say why not take that concept one step smaller (and cheaper)?

Maybe I’m more open to the idea because I lived in Japan for 10 years. But I wouldn’t mind having the option, at least, of buying something like what is known there as a Kei car. Not a plastic fantastic lawnmower special, but one of the nicer ones with the navigation systems, nice looking interiors and turbocharged engines that still manages fantastic fuel savings.

With the recent news that Honda’s Fit and possibly a Mazda and Nissan subcompact from Japan will join the battle to take sales from the Aveo, it seems more likely that we will see other automakers throw their own fuel-efficient minicars into the mix.

Suzuki has long puzzled me with their lack of very small cars offered in the US market. As the king of minicar sales in Japan, with a focus on them, they strangely offer a somewhat poor selection of fuel efficient cars and engines in the U.S. and instead offer small, truckish SUVs and the more powerful than fuel efficient compact Aerio. Subaru also has its share of small cars in Japan, and both Automakers have some cars that while small, are not nearly at the level of smallness seen in the DCX Smart cars.

The cars Suzuki and Subaru sell in Japan that make the maximum use of space, engine displacement, and utility for their size are called Kei cars. What is a Kei Car you ask? It is explained perfectly here:

Kei-Cars, or keijid#333;sha, are small passenger cars as well as trucks. They are mainly sold in Japan, because there are some tax and insurance relaxations and an exemption from the usual requirement of certification of park space that one has adequate parking space at his or her home or has contract with a parking spot.

These relatively relaxed standards came from the post-World War II days when most Japanese were too poor to buy a full sized car, yet had more than enough money to buy a motorcycle. To promote the growth of car industry as well as to offer an alternative delivery method to small business and shop owners, Keicar standards were created.

In Japan, the cars feature yellow licence plates, earning them the name yellow-plate cars in English-speaking circles (black numbers on yellow ground for private use and yellow numbers on black ground for commercial use). The keicar field is very competitive, so that manufacturers are in a constant race to provide better performance, utility, and fun within the keicar regulations, driving the pace of technological innovation, which then spreads to the rest of their automobile line. As a result, keicars are available with turbo-charged engines, automatic transmission, continuously variable transmission, 4-Wheel-Drive, Hybrid Gasoline-Electric engines, air condition systems as well as car navigation systems.

Many will say that such small cars aren’t safe, or cannot pass safety standards imposed by the US government. On the first charge, Kei size cars do have a much stronger focus on safety these days. Crashworthiness test results and safety awards are often cited for Kei cars within Japan as a selling point.

And the ultimate counterpoint to this argument is to point at motorcycles. If someone can drive around on a cycle with no more protection than a helmet, how can a small car be rejected from the US market by the same regulators that allow motorcyclists to cruise freely?

The other argument is that the engines and cars themselves simply aren’t suitable for speeds demanded on 70mph highways in the U.S. That may be so, but not everyone needs to drive on those kinds of roads on a day to day basis. My commute certainly doesn’t require it.

And the best of the turbocharged and supercharged Kei cars from Japan can hold their own with their low curb weights, even with their small engines.

Suzuki and Subaru have the potential to offer fuel efficient small cars to the U.S. market, just as Suzuki does with the Wagon R in the U.K.

It’s my hope that either those who make the regulations or the carmakers will work towards establishing a Ultra-Mini compact car class in America that allows people to get around in the comfort of a car with motorcycle like fuel economy. If not for the Enviromentalists looking to save the world, then for regular people who are tired of paying big dollars just to drive to work day to day.

Take a breath and calm down before you knee-jerk react to this idea. It’s an OPTION – no replacement in my mind for what a lot of us need (at least on the weekends!) – the power of a RWD sports car with a V8, or the utility of an SUV or full-sized Van.

If a motorcycle can be acceptable means of transportation, even glorified by some – why not ultra-small cars?

Here’s what Suzuki and Subaru could offer – and perhaps even team up with GM to qualify and distribute in the US Market:

Suzuki MR Wagon Sport.

660cc 3 Cylinder, Intercooled, Turbocharged 12valve 64hp engine mated to a 4-speed automatic in FWD or 4WD configurations. It comes with LED taillights, 6-speaker sound system, a column-mounted shifer for more interior/passenger room, and more.

It gets a little over 40 miles per gallon (US) rated at Japan’s 10-15 Mode standard. The MR Wagon Sport sells for a little over 10K US Dollars.

In addition to the MR Wagon Sport, Suzuki sells many other small vehicles also with 660cc engines including:

Alto X

Lapin Mode

Suzuki also has a new, somewhat larger hatch/wagon with a 1.3L Engine called the Solio which might be a better match for the U.S. Market:

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