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EV's Vs. Kei Cars.

The mighty battle and the hard choice. Electric (plug in) versus gas powered Kei (mini) cars


There is no disputing that since the introduction of mainstream Electric Vehicles (EV's) such as Tesla, there has been a significant market switch in buying trends as people are becoming more aware of the joys of saving gasoline.

The new Lucid Air:

The Toyota BXG. BXE? BZ.........X? That thing they put in the market because they don't already sell enough SUV's. That.

If you are already screaming like some 2005 vegan about the other benefits to EV ownership (of which, we are aware there are many) now is time to stop reading and move on.

Yes, let's talk about those for a second and just get them out of the way shall we:

  1. Lower cost per mile in energy than typical gas powered cars

  2. Government grants in most places, making many of them affordable

  3. Regenerative braking on some

  4. No engine noise....can be a good thing (petrol-heads, don't leave me yet)

  5. About 1500 less components to go wrong, no engine, no coolant to change, no oil to change, no IACV, TPS, MAF, MAP, TB, CPS, EGR, CTS, O2 Sensors (some cars have up to 6!) the list goes on.

Yes, EV's sure do come with a lot of tech for the most part, yes, some have issues, but in the grand scheme of things there is less to brake on an EV.

As of today, EV's also prove to be pretty reliable for the most part. Although they are new, you don't see many of them on tow trucks.

Sure, sometimes people run out of battery due to forgetting to charge, hardly fair to demonize the class of EV's due to Deborah forgetting to plug in her car (bet she plugged in her phone though!).

So, doesn't seem like we have anything bad to say about them does it? No, not really.

Actually, as we write this one of the SushiCars crew is in the process of buying a Nissan Sakura EV. Pretty cool and pretty cheap. That's right, CHEAP. $17K USD for a brand new EV. Brand new, in Japan. Home of the reasonably priced cars.

Yes, we have seen some eye-watering cars north of 100K USD, however there is still an abundance of them in the $40-$60K range, which is not bad when you look at the price of new cars these days.

Let's just stop there for a second to acknowledge how utterly ridiculous it is that dealerships are charging $65K for a Rav4 Woodland Hybrid, or that a new Ram 1500 Sport with a few options is $97,0000, yes, dollars. Not Rupees or Bismarck's. DOLLARS CANADIAN.

Got any Bitcoin between the sofa, anyone?

So. Back on track (sorry about that). You can have an EV and outside of Japan it is not that expensive but not cheap. What are the other options?

Well, if you want to save the planet but don't feel like committing to $700 a month in car payments for a nicely optioned EV, or have some of the following struggles, don't worry, I have you covered:

  1. You live in an strata which doesn't allow EV charging stations or charges an arm and a testi for one

  2. You just like gas powered cars (but maybe you do want to save some fuel for the next generation of petrol-heads)

  3. You don't trust EV tech yet - "it's not proven, look at the mini-disc!"

  4. Car payments are not for you, period

  5. You also do not have that much cash laying around

  6. You live in a remote area and there are maybe only a few charging stations near you (lack of enough for your liking)

  7. You drive lots and long distances and you did the math, you would spend too long at charging stations for your liking (a lot about preference here, eh?)

  8. <insert other reason because it's your own money>

So EV looks to be a pretty tasty option then. Not to mention one thing for all you fast-driving addicts out there, INSTANT torque = INSTANT speed.

So, EV wins before we even get to the option option?

Not quite.


What do you think about EV's?

  • EV is the best option, doesn't matter what you say next

  • What can possibly compete? I am curious!

  • EV is a fad, it will pass.


Let's look at the underdog in this case then, a one word name to describe so many amazing cars.


(Pronounced: Kay - not reading this Alan?)

That's right. Kei. Those lovable affordable little cars from Japan which have invaded the rest of the world now and are taking off in popularity. Why?

Well, they are easy to park, fun to drive, and most importantly they use gas, so they are convenient (yes, some new ones are EV, but not those which are exportable for another 10+ years to most of North American and Europe).

Kei Car Feature, Japan. Honda Beat (4 Minute Video)

So, if this type of car is not familiar to you, let me give you the closed notes version of Kei cars, and you can read more here if you wish.

To be a Kei car, there is a certain criteria from the Japanese government to get this "light automobile" or "Keijidosha" (Kei, for short).

  1. Max length 3.4M

  2. Max width 1.48M

  3. Max height 2.0M

  4. Max engine size 660CC (4 stroke max) - max power of 63HP*

*since October 1998 there is a power restriction on HP to avoid companies slapping on massive turbochargers and losing the point...

Kei Car Special Plates in Japan - In Japan the plate goes with the car and there is a special meaning to each plate. Watch the "Japanese License Plates Explained" video from Peter

Japanese License Plates Explained - Peter Carotenuto (TougeTrial, before we rebranded as SushiCars!)

So, small? Yes. Small.

The small dimensions means that the little engines (I mean, you can literally pick one up) are perfectly balanced in terms of power and speed.

These little cars move along well under there own power, right up to about 120-135KPH where they do lose some steam (partially down to HP, but also the gearing).

This is fine in Japan where the speed limit is 80KPH and works well in most of North America. You won't win a drag race with big block V8 or Spec-R S15, but that is not the point.

Kei manufactures have had to become really creative with the limited space designs they have. Due to limited space, they are limited in occupancy too. Sorry Kei, this is not looking good for you!

These design limitations have forced manufactures to do all kinds of really cool stuff however. Just look at the Suzuki Lapin "Chocolat" (Lapin is French for rabbit, btw). This car is THE CHOCOLATE BUNNY!!!!!!!!!!!

This car comes from the base of a Suzuki Alto, wearing a different skin. The thing is, there are over 20 versions of the Alto, badged in many different names, often with their own sub-badges and models after that.

So what's the point here?


If you can find a way to live with a smaller car which uses less space, little fuel and seats maximum 4 legally, you can live with one of the many options of Kei car.

Beyond the Lapin, there is so much to choose from that the mind boggles just thinking about it. I legitimately wonder how Japan came up with so many designs and versions of vehicles in such a small amount of dimensional space.

The Alto Works: A personal favourite of Peter's, limited by only size and engine, this is one of the coolest newer Kei cars to come out of Japan. Personally I cannot wait for this to be legal to import into Canada.

The Suzuki Wagon-R Stingray with a little body kit, wheels and suspension. Absolutely amazing that this fits in the Kei spec dimensions and still looks so sleek, rounded and new.

Suzuki Alto Works, remember we said the alto had many faces, here is another from the retro archives. Absolutely magnificent and legal to export to USA and Canada in this gen.

Suzuk Alto AWD. Yup, another skin for the Alto. Not so sporty but sure is clean and cute!

Did someone ask about trucks? Well, here is one for you, a Daihatsu which, with a little creativity has been turned into a lifted off-road beast.

No jokes here, this is all business, with 4x4 and a locking diff and optional front and rear lockers, this will go anywhere.

Also, the extended cab turns this otherwise snug fitting cabin into a palace even for the "rounder" of individuals.

Seen here: Ken's Honda Acty. This has a full blog on it, see that here

Our very own (now sold) Daihatsu Move Sports. A wicked car which was so fun to drive. Honestly I wanted to keep this one, if it wasn't for the fact my son called it a "mail truck" I would have!

See the blog post here

Don't like lifted trucks or the Move?? OK, slam it to the floor then.

This little truck improves functionality by lowering it to easily load a motor bike (nice color matching by the owner here too). Clean. Fun. I bet this is a hit at every cars and coffee (before a mustang slides into it).

Everyone has a white Model3 Tesla. They are currently more common where I live (Vancouver, Canada) than the 10th and 11th gen Honda Civic, or so it seems.

Along with a selection of choices and models which help you feel unique comes the bigger point here. Fuel economy.

Let's take a look at the (not so) scientific tests we did.


KM Drive During Test

Averaged L/100KM

Suzuki Lapin (Alto)



Daihatsu Move



Daihatsu Hijet Cargo (Van)



Suzuki Jimny (FIS)



No prizes for noting the Move wins. However all of these are arguably better than any new gas car and most hybrids even. Compare them to something else 15 years or older, and short of a 93 Civic VX there is no comparison. However your Civic VX has manual windows, no AC, and an NVH rating of -50 (that is a joke, sorry Honda).

So, we established that there is obviously more choice in a Kei car than the current selection of "white Tesla Model3", and that there is a significant fuel saving over most domestic cars. How about the rest of it?

Well, to restrain myself from talking about Kei cars for the next week, and stop short of writing "memoirs of a Kei lover" let me put it to you this way.

  1. The cost of ownership is low thanks to the amazing amount of cars produced and that the engines (largely all powered by the F6A) are tried and true, reliable and cheap to fix

  2. Abundance of parts

  3. Evidently cheap on fuel

  4. Fun, cool, zippy, loved by all who see one!

Now for the comparison. Side by side, from some quick math. Annual driving cost here includes fuel and some market research into average maintenance costs, such as oil changes, fuel filters, tire rotations and some breakdowns factored in over 5 years of ownership.

EV includes rebates, using BC/AB average from the Canadian 2023 rebate programs.

Figures in CAD


Cost To Buy (Market Average)

Annual Cost Based On 15,000KM




Kei Car



Average Domestic Compact Car New



Now, how does that translate into a "monthly spend"


Monthly Spend To Run (excludes Insurance)

Total Spend

Residual (Forecast)







Kei Car





Domestic Compact - New





So, there we have it. I am sure that with some different examples we can all get some different numbers, but by the way, the EV calculation did not factor in a few things like charger install in your strata, and does assume you are in a lower trim EV. Yes, it is true, we like JDM's and we like Kei cars, but in this instance the Kei car seems to win categorically thanks to the math, not our hearts and souls.

Another factor we did not dive into is that keeping an old car on the road stops us needing to produce another new one. If that old car is powered by a 1994 Dodge 5.9 Magnum, OK, maybe the economy and environmental aspects go out the door, however, if you are talking about a Kei car or normal economy sedan etc. It is probably fair to say you are maybe "carbon neutral" if not better by buying used.

Also important is that one factor of smiles per gallon (I know, I mix metric and imperial all the time). The thing you cannot only measure on a table of performance is your satisfaction.

Maybe you want the shiny new EV feel, or don't love the performance of a Kei car. Well, thankfully with all those savings on the Kei option, you can likely afford to buy a fun weekend car or project. Never make the mistake of daily driving your project unless you work from home, don't have children or anyone who depends on you or you are willing to really upset some people.

There. That concludes it. Kei car for the win. Now get to YouTube and watch some more from us on Kei cars and how awesome they are. Stay tuned for the Nissan Sakura reveal too!

Rob Teagle, SushiCars - North America


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