Japan's love affair with kei cars is well-known, as minicars represent the most popular vehicle segment in the market. It looks like consumers are warming up to all-electric kei cars as well, and Nissan and Mitsubishi are cashing in on that.
Earlier this year, they launched the Nissan Sakura and Mitsubishi eK X EV electric kei cars through their NKMV being built at the latter company's Mizushima Plant in western Japan.
Since the start of sales in May 2022, the electric minicars have proven to be very popular with Japanese consumers. By July, the Nissan Sakura had attracted orders of 23,000 units, more than all the EVs sold by all companies in Japan last year. By September, total orders for the Nissan Sakura and Mitsubishi eK X EV reached 35,000 units.
Because demand is overwhelming the production capacity, Nissan announced on its Japanese website on November 1 that it temporarily stopped taking new orders. A company spokesperson cited by Reuters said Nissan stopped taking orders for the Sakura at the end of October because customers are faced with wait times of a year or more. It is unclear when Nissan will resume taking orders.
Gallery: 2023 Nissan Sakura
In September, Nissan and Mitsubishi announced plans to boost output of their electric kei cars by about 20 percent in fiscal year 2023. As a result, the production volume during the next fiscal year is slated to reach about 70,000 units.
While gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles reign supreme in Japan, Nissan is hoping to draw more Japanese drivers to all-electric cars by offering low-priced micro models such as the Sakura.
The electric kei car starts at 2,399,100 yen in Japan, which is the equivalent of $16,250 at the current exchange rate. The price includes Japan's 10-percent consumption tax but excludes a 550,000 yen ($3,725) national subsidy and subsidies from local governments available in some areas. This means the base price can go down to about $12,500 or even less.
The Sakura (and the eK X EV) is powered by a 20 kWh lithium-ion battery that feeds energy into a front-mounted electric motor making 47 kilowatts (63 horsepower) and 144 pound-feet (195 Newton-meters) of torque. The range is estimated at up to 111 miles (180 kilometers) based on Japan's WLTC cycle.
Suzuki Motor and Daihatsu Motor are also planning the launch of mini electric cars. The electrification of the kei car segment, which currently accounts for 40 percent of new vehicles sales in Japan, is critical for a nationwide shift to EVs.