Kei Cars Overtake Regular Cars in May New Car Sales

Posted by Stephen On Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

In Japan, car types are divided into “regular” passenger cars and mini “kei” cars. Kei refers to cars that have engine capacity restrictions that make them suitable for use as city cars. There is an interesting piece in The Truth About Cars shows how kei cars, as well as small regular car models like the Toyota Vitz have overtaken traditional top-sellers, such as the Honda Fit and Toyota Prius in new car sales in May 2011.

In an earlier post, I have noted how used car prices are up since the earthquake disaster in March, and I think the cause of this spike in kei and other small car sales can also be traced back to people buying “interim” vehicles to get themselves back on the road after their main vehicles were destroyed in the tsunami.

Another reason raised by the Nikkei newspaper is that these smaller kei cars have fewer parts than regular passenger cars, and were therefore less affected by supply-chain disruption. While I think this has some merit, the fact of the matter is that some parts are common to all cars, no matter how simple their design. If there is a shortage of paint, for example, it does not matter if you are building a kei car or a regular car, you will still have the same problem of not being able to paint the body.

I think another reason is that kei car production was less affected as a major producer of kei cars is the Toyota group member, Daihatsu. Not only does Daihatsu build cars under its own moniker, but it also builds them for makers such  as Subaru. Daihatsu has its production mainly based in the Osaka – Kyoto – Kobe area, with some production also in Kyushu. Since the earthquake struck far from these areas, and Daihatsu was not even affected by the rolling power cuts which were imposed farther east in the Tokyo area, it is likely that this simple geographical accident also resulted in little affect on this major kei car maker’s productivity.

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