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Kei trucks, or mini-trucks, are fairly common in places like Japan. These Kei cars are in the Japanese vehicle category, and they are designed to be cheap, efficient, and of course, pretty small. Kei trucks also come with specific tax exemptions, making them cheaper than other options. And if you’re looking for a Kei car in the United States, it seems like a niche group of enthusiasts is importing them. 

What is a Kei truck?

A Kei truck is a mini-truck designed to meet certain regulations in Japan. The category of vehicles was first established in Japan back in 1949, and restrictions for Kei cars were established on October 1, 1998. 

A Suzuki Carry mini-truck is on display at an auto show.
2019 Suzuki Carry | Anton Raharjo via Getty Images

These Kei cars follow these regulations:

  • Engine capacity: up to 660 ccs
  • Power: up to 63 horsepower
  • Length: up to 11.2 feet
  • Width: up to 4.9 ft
  • Height: up to 6.6 ft

Clearly, these vehicles are designed for the roads of Japan, not the United States. And in a market where pickup trucks are becoming massive, even a Ford Maverick will make a Kei truck look tiny. Even in terms of speed, you probably won’t be comfortable on a state highway, let alone an interstate. 

Can you buy a Kei truck?

According to Autotrader, you can buy a Kei car in the United States because 21 states allow Kei trucks of any age to be imported. But they often need to be registered as an ATV vs. a regular registration. 

The U.S. has fairly strict laws when it comes to importing vehicles, and in most cases, a truck must be at least 25 years old in order to ship it here. But it looks like Kei trucks could be the exception to the rule, depending on where you live. 

Multiple Japanese automakers produce these Kei trucks, or mini-trucks. Brands include Honda, Suzuki, Subaru, and Mazda. Perhaps one of the more common versions of these vehicles here in the States is the Daihatsu Hijet. 

A Daihatsu Hijet shows off as a Kei truck with fruit in its bed.
Daihatsu Hijet | AFP PHOTO via Getty Images

It offers a small truck bed and a top speed of about 80 mph. But to be completely honest, I’m not sure if I’d want to go that fast in a vehicle of this size, especially on public roads. 

Mini-trucks seem to be getting some respect

Although I hesitate to call these vehicles practical, they are certainly charming. A quick search on Facebook Marketplace seems to show that mini-trucks pop up for under $10k pretty often. 

A Mahindra Supro mini-truck is parked with some other Kei cars.
Mahindra Supro | Debajyoti Chakraborty via Getty Images

So, if you’re OK with a tiny vehicle, right-hand drive, and some other sacrifices, maybe one could make a fun project. You are certain to turn heads at your local cars and coffee if you do so. 

Overall, it does seem like the Kei car community is growing in the United States. Auto enthusiasts love weird things, and a Kei car is not going to be your average truck. Just make sure that it’s legal to operate one on public roads in your state; it looks like laws surrounding these vehicles vary.

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