Minicars: Cheap and Cheerful
by Peter Nunn
One of the great things about the car business today is its sheer diversity. Some nations love diesels, others go big on pick-ups and SUVs while here in Japan, one of the hottest segments around, believe it or not, is the buzzy 660 cc minicar.
As a concept,
Today, the kei is still all that and more. The underlying creed of cheap and cheerful motoring still holds true yet the minimalist kei has grown up a lot in recent years, really closing down the gap on what you might call ‘normal’ cars.
You buy a kei in
The more fiscally aware will note you also get a break on parking charges and other fees to keep running costs down.
So who buys kei’s in
As for the guys, once upon a time, the top kei’s were heavily into hi-tech to grab their interest: turbos, multivalve engines, 4WD, sports suspension, all that was on offer from steroidal pocket rockets like the Suzuki Alto Works and Mitsubishi Minica Dangan ZZ.
Today, niche marketing is more the key. Suzuki, the 660 cc leader, has broadened the scope of its mainstream Alto, for instance, by adding the Lapin designer edition.
Daihatsu, in turn, has produced the delicious sounding Move Latte as a spin off from the regular Move mini-MPV. Subaru’s R2, a mould breaking 660 cc four-door, has now been followed by the shorter two-door R1, and while Japan’s minis have periodically ventured abroad, the cute R1, in fact will be the latest to test the waters when Subaru puts it on show at the Geneva International Motor Show this March.
In a high volume 660 cc market worth a record 1.89m units in Japan last year, which also saw Suzuki shift more than 200,000 units of the best-selling Wagon R, it’s surprising perhaps that Smart is the only outside brand so far to try its luck.
Helping to boost the market is the arrival of Nissan, now selling the Moco through an OEM tie-up with Suzuki. Honda is another major 660 cc player in
To the foreign eye, meantime,
Little wonders that are definitely Big in
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