These cheap, tiny Japanese pickup trucks are winning fans in America

Kei trucks can cost as little as $5,000 to import from Japan. Getty Images
  • Tiny Japanese trucks that cost as little as $5,000 are winning over some Americans.
  • Kei trucks are about 11 feet long and can hit speeds of up to 65 mph.
  • According to Japan Car Direct, they’ve become popular with buyers such as farmers.

It’s not just tiny homes taking America by storm – now tiny trucks made in Japan are becoming increasingly popular too.

Kei trucks are about 11 feet long and less than seven feet high and evolved from the three-wheel trucks based on motorcycles after the Second World War. 

They were made by several manufacturers as the Daihatsu

Hijet, Subaru Sambar, Suzuki Carry, Mitsubishi Minicab, and Honda Acty, per Wikipedia.

The tiny trucks are a common sight on Japanese roads, but they’ve also won over some Americans wanting a versatile, compact – and cheap – vehicle

.

Kei cars

One of the companies importing them to the US is Japan Car Direct

Matt Matusiak told Insider the company ships a range of vehicles to the US, including Toyotas from the 1990s, old Suzuki trucks, and small Nissan camper vans.

But he said that Kei trucks were by far its most popular purchase, and said they accounted for about a third of its orders.

The cheapest Kei truck sold by Japan Car Direct is about $5,000, with shipping costs accounting for much of that sum.

“Every single year for the past seven years we’ve been increasing our sales overall, and a huge chunk of that is Kei vehicles,” Matusiak 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 he says Kei trucks also appeal to the likes of surfers and hunters wanting nimble transport with storage space for surfboards or animals.

How to buy a Kei truck

Japan Car Direct is one of several companies based in Japan that export tiny trucks to the US and other countries.

However, Kei trucks are subject to certain restrictions in the US that buyers need to be aware of. More recent models in particular face certain Department of Transportation and Environmental Protection Agency restrictions. 

Kei trucks are typically limited to 25 mph depending on the state. In Pennsylvania

, for example, they must be registered as off-road vehicles, while California’s tighter environmental laws make it difficult to use a Kei truck there, Matusiak said.

Vehicles more than 25 years old aren’t subject to restrictions, and account for most of those imported to the US, he said.

Japan Car Direct and its competitors will walk customers through the import process, which requires several forms to be completed.

However, there’s still a certain amount of faith required to buy a car from a foreign country without first being able to see it, Matusiak acknowledged: “It’s a lot to digest, for sure.” 

Do you own a Kei truck? Get in touch with this reporter at rhogg@insider.com or via Twitter DM at @RyanAHogg