I can’t explain my fascination with tiny vehicles and why I long to drive Japanese Kei vehicles and neither can you. These tiny vehicles (“Kei” vehicles originated in Japan and must be shorter than 3.4 meters in length while being less than 1.48 meters wide), are absolutely tiny. They would never pass muster with the Department of Transportation, and most people in ‘Merica want nothing to do with something so minuscule.
Kei vehicles have engine sizes that range from 150-ccs to 660 ccs. Basically, that’s small to medium-sized motorcycle engine sizes.
You’re lucky if you can get more than 70 horsepower out of a fairly modern Kei Van; some produced less than 25 hp.
One of the first things you see in massive cities like Beijing and Shanghai, China are masses of vehicles delivering goods. Three wheeled, motorized tricycles, scooters and bicycles are used – true, but the sheer volume of delivery trucks is astonishing.
In China, Kei vans are called mian bao che (大面包的面包范) which (poorly translated) means loaf of bread van.
We chartered a Kei Van to use as a taxi in Beijing, China… and it rocked.
No, literally – it was so poorly maintained, the poor little van wiggled and wobbled as we darted through traffic. The driver achieved (what felt like) a breakneck speed as we bounded through long streets and tight corners. That van made some noises that defy description.
As I watched the driver strain the engine well past its 6,000-ish red-line before shifting, I could actually feel the clutch disengage and reengage gear to gear in the seat of my pants. It was cool and disconcerting at the same time.
My tush and lower back were treated to a free massage via the knees of the passenger sitting behind me. Granted, this was a (very) well used van, one that had to have been built in the early 90s, it was still a hoot. loaded with five full-sized adults and my big ass, I was surprised the poor thing moved at all.
Kei Vans are still being built and the newest batch of tiny Chinese vans appear to be bigger, more substantial and more powerful than the rickety clap-trap I rode in. That’s not saying much, but it’s somewhat gratifying to see modern versions of these vans on Chinese roads.
I know, I know, Kei Vans are about as safe as a baby playing with a switchblade – but they are still cool.
Check out this video with Roman driving a Nissan Quest in the Pacific Northwest!
Nathan MUST drive Kei Van one day!!!