Association, Inc.

Issue No. 1, 2010

Japan's New Small Cars

Small cars have long played a big part in Japan’s way of life. With Japan’s unique brand of 660 cc Kei-jidosha, mini-cars to the forefront, small cars are an especially good fit for Japan’s often crowded roads and tight parking spaces. Many are convenient and fun, cleverly packaged for their size and nicely affordable to buy and run, too.

The small car segment remains fiercely competitive in Japan, meantime, and is ever evolving.  As the new decade starts, so another fresh wave of tiny tots are ready to roll. We saw a couple of key newcomers at the Tokyo Motor Show last October. The new Suzuki Alto (a different model to the one sold in Europe) is a cute regeneration of a longstanding 660 cc icon. With all-new lightweight body, it’s the epitome of the modern, efficient yet roomy mini-car, one that also manages a high of 24.5 km/l in Japan’s 10-15 mode economy cycle.

Across the way, Daihatsu is another big name in the microcar segment. At the Tokyo Show, Daihatsu presented the e:S (standing for eco and smart) mini. At a time when many are thinking about EVs and hybrids for future small cars, so Daihatsu’s e:S rationalises existing technology and parts to go eco and slash weight down to just 700 kgs. As a result, the e:S achieves an impressive 10-15-mode rating of 30 km/l, Daihatsu says, and could yet have a bright future.

In the electric vehicle camp, Honda created a lot of attention with the EV-N, a compact city commuter study themed after Honda’s classic N360 model of the '60s. The battery-powered EV-N with solar roof panel emits no CO2 and has interactive technology to "communicate" with people and other vehicles.

Honda sees the EV-N as one zero-emissions solution for future city driving. Toyota and Nissan are believed to be developing similar small EVs, while Mitsubishi is already there with its acclaimed, electric-powered i-MiEV minicar which is now running not just in Japan but in Europe and North America, too.

Another big small-car player for 2010 will come from Nissan. The company is preparing a Future Global Compact Car to replace the March/Micra and it’s a model that will be built in several nations including Thailand, China and India. Through low cost “Smart Engineering,” the new compact is all set to redefine how compact cars are made worldwide, Nissan says.

As 2010 kicked off, however, Honda and Toyota were quick on the scene, unveiling two promising new small car models at the New Delhi Auto Expo. The Toyota Etios concept is Toyota’s new small car for India, with 1.2 and 1.5-litre engines for hatchback and sedan body styles, respectively. To keep the car affordable, as many local parts as possible have been used. Honda unveiled the Honda New Small Concept, a preview of its forthcoming low cost city car with plans to make it both in India and Thailand. Able to seat five, the Honda New Small Concept has a futuristic style and underlines just how Japan’s major manufacturers are rethinking the future of the small car.

Cars that are inexpensive enough to sell in developing markets yet sophisticated enough to work in mature markets as well, like Japan and Europe, along with new 660 cc minis, EVs and hybrids, that is how the small car future is stacking up and all signs point to an exciting ride.