Japan’s automakers are betting that small will be the next big thing, as at the 2013 Tokyo Motor Show opening this week, more than a third of the show’s debuts will be mini vehicles, up from about 14 % in 2011.
For example, Honda Motor Co. will unveil the two-seat S660 convertible, its first mini sports car since 1996. Also, Daihatsu Motor Co. has a rival model with panels that can be changed like an iPhone cover. Suzuki Motor Corp.’s offering is a curvy mini crossover that looks like an SUV. Nissan Motor Co. will display the Dayz Roox wagon, the second minicar developed with Mitsubishi Motors Corp. after its debut into the market earlier this year.
Manufacturers are refreshing the “kei” car segment – as they’re known in Japanese – to escape their image as boxy utility vehicles driven by country bumpkins and older people, and attract new buyers into the biggest bright spot for the world’s No. 3 car market.
Distinguished by their yellow number plates, kei cars were originally created as a cheap means of transportation as the country industrialized after World War II. Typical minicars today are narrow and boxy, with an engine no bigger than 0.66 liters. About two-thirds of drivers are women, and a third are older than 60, according to the Japan Mini Vehicle Association.
While small cars have proved popular in other countries – think Britain’s original Mini or Italy’s Fiat 500 – they don’t come close to Japan, where mini vehicles accounted for 39 % of new cars sold in the first 10 months of this year.
Automakers will debut a total of 157 models at this year’s Tokyo show, with 76 due for global release and 81 for the domestic market. That will make it the biggest display of new models since 2007, before the onset of the global financial crisis and natural disasters in Japan, according to the organizers.