Japanese Kei Trucks: America's Surprisingly Popular Auto Enthusiast Trend

Modern trucks are huge, and with the introduction of GMC's gargantuan Hummer EV and Sierra EV, pickups likely aren't going to shrink in size anytime soon. Most people either can't afford a monstrous Chevy 3500HD Silverado to carry stuff around or they flat-out don't need it. Similarly, midsize trucks like the Ford Ranger or Chevy Colorado may still be too large. That's where Kei trucks come in — at least, that's what they're designed to do.

Recently, JDM import Kei trucks have been storming the enthusiast scene. Kei trucks and passenger vehicles are practically nonexistent in the United States, apart from enthusiast communities, as the States generally has wider streets and larger roads than Japan, where Kei cars fit a certain legal niche. In order to legally be considered a "Kei" car in Japan, the engine can't exceed a displacement of 660 ccs, or put out more than 63 horsepower. It also can't be longer than 11.2 feet or more than 4.9 feet wide. For comparison purposes, a Chevy 3500HD with a crew cab and a long bed is over 22.1 feet long. 

Aside from the strict utilitarian purpose of carrying things around, Kei trucks have taken on a new life in the United States as the compact pickups reach the age where one can be legally imported to the United States and registered (25 years old).

Heavy on utility, light on your wallet

The Honda ACTY, Daihatsu HiJet, Subaru Sambar, and Suzuki Carry are common choices for Kei truck buyers. Taking into account the obvious power restrictions of an unmodified 660 cc motor, a Kei truck can do just about anything your average pickup is capable of doing. You won't be able to, say, tow a trailer, carry dozens of bags of concrete, or be able to reach highway speed in most parts of the country, but in a rural or cramped city setting, Kei trucks have proven to be popular alternatives to the mile-long pickups of today, especially as older more compact pickups get harder to find stateside, and as Ford struggles to get small pickups like the Maverick out onto dealership lots. 

In addition to the obvious utility of having a bed, Kei truck fans have turned the tiny trucks into anything from overlanding rigs to full off-roaders complete with lift kits and knobby tires. But perhaps the real draw of Kei trucks is the price. Most trucks, like the Honda ACTY or Daihatsu HiJet that have already been imported Stateside, can be acquired for less than $10,000, or even $9,000 without much struggle.

If you're looking for a farm truck to replace something like a John Deere Gator, or a side-by-side (some of which can easily exceed a $15,000 price tag), or you're looking for an alternative and hip city car, then a Kei truck might be worth looking into, as long as you don't might right-hand drive and only a little more power than a motorcycle.