What’s a Japanese Kei Car & How’s It Different?

What is a Japanese Kei Car?

And what does “Kei” mean?

Glad you asked.

Short for “keijidousha”…

The Japanese Kei car  is a type of compact car that can be found all over Japan.

The word, “keijidousha,” literally means for light automobile and it is the smallest vehicle that can be legally driven on a Japanese expressway.

japanese kei car - what is it

Characteristics of a Japanese Kei Car

  • Size: The dimensions of a Kei car have to have a maximum length of 3.4 m, a width of 1.48 m, and a height of 2.0 m.
  • Engine Displacement: The maximum engine displacement has to be 660 cc.
  • Horsepower: The maximum horsepower is 63.
  • Speed: The current maximum speed is 140 km per hour.
  • Mileage: Kei cars have great fuel efficiency with 50-60 miles per gallon.

Because of how small the Kei is, owners get various tax and insurance benefits.

Not only that, it also bypasses the requirement to own a parking space with a standard-size vehicle.

The Kei car became widely popular during the 80s to 90s when Japan experienced an economic boom.

These cost-efficient vehicles became easy to obtain by Japan’s middle class.

In 2018, 7 out of 10 top-selling cars in Japan were Kei cars.

Difference Between Kei Cars & Regular Cars?

japanese kei car - what is it

1. The most notable difference is the size.

A Kei car is visibly smaller, which is a huge benefit for those in big cities.

Especially in Tokyo where the streets are extremely narrow and space is limited.

2. The shape of a Kei car is traditionally a boxy design to maximize the space allowed to legally be considered a Kei car.

3. Another difference is the financial benefit of owning a Kei car over a regular car.

Having a Kei car is less costly as you can save on gas, insurance, and taxes.

This makes it a popular car for young and elderly drivers.

In Japan, there is also a legal requirement to show proof that you own a place to park your car.

That is, if you own a regular car.

With a Kei car, you’re not required to own a parking space, which makes it a much easier car to purchase.

4. Kei cars are more eco-friendly.

It has a great mileage which means that there is less pollution in the air.

In a big city like Tokyo, this is extremely important because it can reduce city-wide pollution.

 Most Popular Kei Car Brands & Models

While there are many different Kei cars in the Japanese market…

Here are some of the most popular Kei car brands and models.

1. Honda N-Box

Honda N-BOX

This is one of the most popular Kei car models by Honda.

It features a practical design where the seats can be moved around to fit large cargo even inside a small space.

The newest models even have sensors if there are pedestrians.

In 2017-2018, it received the Best Car of the Year award in Japan.

2. Suzuki Spacia


Another popular Kei car is Spacia by Suzuki and it is a 5-door micro van.

It has been in production since 2013 with many improvements over the years.

In the latest versions of the Spacia, it is only available as a hybrid electric and gas.

3. Nissan Dayz


The Nissan Dayz is a practical car, with many features.

In particular, the latest model features nicer interiors with leather-like material and more interior storage.

It also has a tall design so that you can feel spacious even within a small vehicle.

4. Subaru Chiffon

Subaru Justy & Chiffon '2017

Originally called the Daihatsu Tanto, it is now under the name Subaru Chiffon.

This car has been in production since 2003.

The name of the vehicle comes from the concept that the car should feel comfy inside like chiffon.

It comes in many different color styles with a sliding door.

5. Suzuki Alto

Suzuki Alto

This is a classic model of car by Suzuki.

It has been produced since the 1980s with an original design with 3 doors.

However, the recent models resemble other Kei cars with a 5-door and boxy design.

6. Nissan Sakura


One of the newer models released by Nissan is the Sakura.

It is a fully electric car that is within the Kei category.

21,000 cars were sold in 2022 when it was released.

The name of the car comes from the word for cherry blossom in Japanese.

There are many color options including a light pink color that represents the cherry blossom.

7. Mitsubishi Delica Mini

Nissan Delica Mini
Source: https://www.mitsubishi-motors.com/en/newsrelease/2023/detail1422.html


The Delica Mini by Mitsubishi is one of the cars in their Delica line.

The mini retains the style of the original Delica SUV but in a smaller form.

It also features technology that can help the driver on gravel and unpaved roads.

There are also flexible seating arrangements so that it can fit people comfortably or can carry large cargo.


Now you know a bit about Japanese Kei Cars…

Their small size…

Their boxiness…

It’s quite clear that these type of vehicles, for the time being, can only be popular in Japan and in crowded cities like Tokyo.

Anywhere else, people prefer big cars.

How about you?

Leave a comment.

– Team IJ

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments