Car enthusiasts would know what Kei cars are. For those who are not familiar with Kei cars, it is a type of vehicle in Japan which is small in size and they are made to comply with tax and insurance regulations.
These Kei cars are not limited to just passenger cars. They are available in other types too such as pick-up trucks and cargo vans. But have you ever wondered how did the Kei car category came about?
Back in the 1940s, many countries were affected by the devastation of the Second World War and Japan was considered to be among the worst. After the war, Japan’s economy was in a terrible state, many people were left jobless and those who had a job; their earnings were very little.
At that time, many people could only afford a motorcycle at the most. Another factor was the lack of resources such as steel and petrol. Most of these resources were used up to built tanks, planes, weapons and etc. And the petrol was used up to run these war machines.
The idea of a Kei car was conceived in the late 1940s. It was made to get the country’s economy off the ground by offering private and also business owners an inexpensive and appropriate mode of transportation.
Initial class regulations on Kei cars were a little restrictive on the engine displacement size. Automaker could either built 150cc four stroke engines or 100cc two stroke engines. Over the next few years; the displacement sizes were revised and in 1955, the two classes were revised into a single 360cc class.
It was in this revised class regulation that the Kei car market took off. The Subaru 360 was considered to be the first successful Kei car of this class. The model name 360 was derived from the size of the engine. The car was even sold in the United States. Over 300,000 units were sold until the model was phased out.
As the years go by, more modern features such as disc brakes and automatic transmissions were fitted onto Kei cars. During the 1970s, the government began to take away the benefits associated with Kei cars. This, plus strict emission regulations, shrivelled the Kei car market.
A new revised class regulation started in 1976. The new regulation said that Kei cars could get bigger in terms of dimensions and also engine size, up to 550cc. This new regulation helped to boost the market for such cars. Another revision was made in 1990 where the length of the car grew a little but the engine size remained the same.
The last revision was made in 1998 where the maximum dimensions of the car are at 3.4m for length, 1.48m in width and 2m in height. Engine size is at 660cc and max horsepower is at 63bhp.
Today, Kei cars come in many shapes and designs. Some are designed with boxy, van-like shapes and there are also sporty coupes. Kei cars with an electric powertrain were introduced recently and one of them is the Mitsubishi i-MiEV.
Photo credit: Net Car Show and Wikipedia
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