Should Those Small Kei Cars Be Made In the United States?

Courtesy: David McNew/Getty Images
Courtesy: David McNew/Getty Images /

With increasing traffic on city roads and demands for higher E.P.A. gas mileage, kei car production may be a great solution.

What is a kei car?  A kei car is a car of a uniquely small size.  In Japan, it is a class of vehicle that complies with certain tax and insurance regulations.  Due to its unique size, it is exempt by the Japanese government and is allowed a parking space on Japanese roads with less regulation than a standard sized vehicle.  Kei cars simply get taxed at far lower rates.

Unfortunately, in the U.S., there isn’t much allure for kei-sized cars.  The closest we get to kei cars are the Smart Car and the Mitsubishi i-MIEV.  A bit rough and lacking in choice, right?

However, there is good news.  The 25-year import rule has surpassed to import cars from 1991 and earlier from Japan.  Japan’s kei cars are far more useful, exotic, and appealing.  Although Japan created a 63 horsepower limit rule for kei cars, there is no regulation like that in the United States.  Manufacturers have come up with very clever ways to maximize 63 horsepower. How, you may ask?

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That’s simple really.  Japan also has an engine-size limit for kei cars.  Engine size is limited to 660cc.  You may be thinking to yourself, “That’s the size of a motorcycle engine.”  Yes, it is.  Motorcycles are also very quick to an average road car and far more fuel efficient as well.

Japanese manufacturers quickly adopted turbo-charged engines for quicker acceleration, or high-revving engineering to add more of a fun factor.  Considering the diminutive size of a kei car, weight is easily less than 2,000 pounds.

If you want to watch something far more convincing, think about Matt Farah (@TheSmokingTire) and the tuned cars he has driven.  His perception of horsepower and speed is greatly altered.  Anything less than 500 horsepower seems outright slow.  Yet, the video under a subscription of the /Drive channel showed that he was absolutely giddy and enjoyed the car.  Patrick George of Jalopnik raved about a gullwing Mazda. A gullwing Mazda?  Yes.  A mid-engined, turbo-charged, gullwing Mazda AZ-1 that revs to 10,000rpm.

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Is 2,000 pounds too heavy for a car?  How about 1,500?  Thinking about doing autocross now? Thought so. Even an early Jeremy Clarkson raved about a Daihatsu Mira. What are your thoughts on this?