Americans are importing tiny Japanese ‘Kei’ trucks for $3,000 – but buyer beware

Move over tiny homes! Americans are now importing mini Japanese ‘Kei’ pick-up trucks that cost as little as $3,000 – but buyer beware…

  • Tiny Japanese Kei trucks are only 11 feet long and less than seven feet high 
  • The mini pickups are earning unlikely fans among farmers in rural America 
  • There are restrictions US drivers should take into account before buying one

Tiny Japanese pickup trucks are becoming an unlikely hit with US drivers – who are importing them for as little as $3,000. 

Mini pickup trucks, known as ‘Kei’ tricks, are earning fans in rural America – particularly among farmers wanting a cheap and compact vehicle – and are causing a storm on social media.   

The miniature trucks, which are typically only about 11 feet long and less than seven feet high, are widespread in Japan as their size means they are taxed at a lower rate than other vehicles.

They are produced by several large manufacturers, including Daihatsu, Suzuki, Subaru, Toyota and Honda – with fans snapping them up for as little as $900 in Japan, before shipping them to the US.

But experts warn there are catches drivers should be aware of before bagging a bargain Kei truck – and motorists may be limited to driving at 25 miles per hour.

TikTok user Andy Didorsi explained to his 508,000 followers how he bought a Honda Acty truck for just $850 from Japan, and then spend $2,086 to ship the vehicle to Baltimore. 

Many rural Americans have taken to TikTok to show how they are using the mini pickups for farm work, with one calling it ‘the world’s most practical car,’ and others adding new wheels and tires to build ‘monster’ Kei trucks.

The majority of the vehicles have all-wheel drive, meaning they can be driven off-road, and transport materials.

Todd Gatto, an owner of HVNY Imports, a firm in New York, told The Economist that he has sold over 300 to local businesses in the past few years. ‘We bought five of them to start, and we sold them all within seven days,’ he said.

Another company importing these trucks to the US is Japan Car Direct, which is based in Chiba, Japan.

Some drivers have upgraded their trucks to 'monster Kei trucks' for an extra cost

The trucks are becoming increasingly popular with rural Americans, with some upgrading their vehicle for an extra cost 

President Matt Matusiak told Business Insider that Kei trucks were by far the company’s most popular purchase, and accounted for about a third of its orders.

‘Every single year for the past seven years, we’ve been increasing our sales overall, and a huge chunk of that is Kei vehicles,’ he said. ‘It’s probably our most-searched term, and that’s what brings most people to our website.’ 

Many of his customers own ranches or farms, but Matusiak added that Kei trucks also appeal to surfers and hunters wanting nimble transport with storage space for surfboards or animals.

The cheapest truck that the company sells is approximately $5,000 – with shipping costs accounting for much of the sum.

Matusiak warned, however, that there are certain restrictions buyers should take into account before ordering a tiny truck. 

Firstly, most of the vehicles are right-hand drive and they do not always have airbags or other safety features required in new cars.

The majority are imported under a rule that allows non-compliant vehicles older than 25 years to be brought into America – regulation originally intended for collectible vintage cars.

To be imported legally to some states, Kei trucks need to have speed governors installed to prevent them from exceeding 25mph, according to The Department of Transportation and Environmental Protection Agency.

It may be possible to carry out alterations to override this speed limit but drivers will need to check any rules and regulations carefully. 

In Pennsylvania, Kei trucks must be registered as off-road vehicles, while California’s tighter environmental laws make it difficult to use a Kei truck there at all, Matusiak said.