Yet there’s one place in the world where the city car continues to thrive: Japan. Or rather a type of car smaller than the city car: the kei car. Total sales of kei cars, which are built to strict sizing dimensions and performance outputs (3.4m long by 1.48m wide and 2.0m high, with engines no greater than 660cc with a 63hp output), were just shy of two million in Japan last year, posting an increase in market share and overall sales in a market that contracted. They’re hugely popular.
Kei cars enter our world once every two years around this time, when the latest batch are revealed at the Tokyo motor show. This year’s crop include the likes of the Mitsubishi Super Height K-Wagon, Daihatsu Waku Waku and Toyota Copen GR Sport, all as imaginatively named as they are styled and engineered.
Seeing kei cars on the Tokyo show stands and buzzing around the Japanese capital’s streets usually leads to statements that they’d be a great idea in Europe, a decrying of them not being made available, but then a tendency to forget about it until the biennial show comes round again. And repeat.
Yet not this time. For this year’s admiring glances at kei cars will be accompanied with the knowledge of a different landscape back home, having seen so many of our own city cars be killed off with no replacements in such a short space of time due to the demands that new emissions legislation is putting on car makers. Perhaps kei cars could provide the answer?
Or, more specifically, the origins of kei cars. They weren’t launched to deal with overcrowding of urban streets or cutting emissions but rather to create a more affordable car with lower insurance and taxation to help improve car ownership in post-war Japan, where many people simply couldn’t afford the conventionally sized models being offered.