Before the 90s, Japan wasn’t really known for producing great trucks, or any truck at all for that matter. But the thing, they did. There have been a lot of awesome JDM trucks, even if we go all the way back to the 60s.
A lot of the trucks on this list will be considered “Kei” trucks, but there are also trucks on this list not considered “Kei”. For transparency, not all trucks on this list are true JDM, but were also sold overseas.
The most straightforward advantage is that, unlike big, gas-guzzling American trucks, the JDM trucks are smaller, cheaper, and more reliable. Even a family with a below-average income could afford to run a JDM truck.
They are incredibly easy to load. Most JDM trucks have foldable side hinges which makes loading extremely simple. Moving a sofa, or perhaps a motorcycle? A JDM truck goes unchallenged.
Finding will be easy, with a JDM truck you’ll fit in basically anywhere. Most JDM trucks are even way smaller than your average sedan. Also, if you’re lucky enough to drive a JDM truck, more specifically a Kei truck you’ll notice there are literally zero blind spots.
The turning circle is amazing. If you live in a large urban area, you’ll find that a JDM truck is very convenient.
But owning a JDM truck is not all great, there are some obvious flaws.
Owning a Kei truck will almost certainly limit you at some point. Here are some annoying things about owning a Kei truck.
Owning a JDM or Kei truck is not all sunshine. But if you treat it correctly and use it for its designed purpose, then it transforms into an excellent piece of machinery.
Not all trucks on this list are considered “true” JDM. In fact, not even all the Kei trucks on this list are considered true JDM. Some Kei trucks were actually sold outside Japan and sequentially shouldn’t be considered “true” JDM. Although, for those sold internationally, it didn’t take long before they eventually got withdrawn due to not meeting sale criteria.
The larger trucks on this list are not “true” JDM and were sold internationally. Especially the Nissan Datsun D21 which was sold all over the entire globe.
The Daihatsu Hijet is part of what is considered a Kei truck, or van. You could say it’s a miniature version of a regular-sized truck. The intention of these Kei trucks was that the smaller size kept weight down, which made it so that they could fit a small engine (usually less than 1.0L displacement). The smaller chassis and engine size made it so insurance fees, and taxes got reduced substantially.
The Daihatsu Hijet started being manufactured in the 1960s, with the first Hijet receiving a tiny 356cc two-stroke engine producing a mere 17hp and a top speed of 47 mph (75 km/h). The first model was very limited on how much weight it could carry, and it wasn’t until a few years later that the Daihatsu Hijet could haul some significant weight.
The Subaru Sambar also falls under the Kei category and has been in production ever since its release in 1961.
Likewise, the Hijet, the first Subaru Sambar featured a 356 cc two-stroke engine producing 18hp. The Sambar was extremely light, weighing in just shy of 395kg (870 lbs.). To put that in perspective, there are men on this planet that lifts more than that.
The first-generation Sambar wasn’t really a hit in the design department, but as the Sambar was developed into a newer generation the looks improved.
The Sambar was sold overseas, and at one point Subaru even had a joint-venture with a company in Finland.
Between 1978 and 1994, the Subaru Brat “Bi-drive Recreational All-terrain Transporter” was sold as a light-duty four-wheel-drive coupe utility. It had a 1.6- or 1.8-liter boxer engine that produced between 67 and 73 horsepower – or, if you were lucky enough to reside in Australia, a 1.8-liter turbocharged model that produced an amazing 95 horsepower, making it a total powerhouse! The BRAT was incredibly inexpensive and practical, even if it didn’t establish any lap records.
The price of the BRAT is constantly rising in tandem with its popularity. Depending on the mileage, condition, and service history, enthusiasts today could pay anything from $4,000 to $30,000. The BRAT is quickly becoming a collector’s item, and prices are sure to rise as demand grows and availability shrinks.
The Carry was Suzuki’s first try within the Kei truck category and launched about during the same time as other brands during the 1960s. Originally the Suzuki Carry was actually not sold under the Suzuki badge, but the Suzulight brand. The Suzulight brand was part of the Suzuki Motor Corporation between 1955 and 1969 and focused solely on Kei cars.
Unlike many other Kei trucks, the Suzuki Carry was actually front-engined and rear-wheel drive, whereas most other Kei trucks usually are front-mid engined.
The older generation Suzuki Carry is easily recognized by its round headlights and flat nose.
The Honda Acty competed against Kei trucks such as the Subaru Sambar, Suzuki Carry, and Daihatsu Hijet and was first manufactured in 1977 by the Honda Motor Company.
The Honda Acty utilizes a mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive/four-wheel drive layout and is powered by various different inline-3 engines, except for the first generation which used an inline-2.
Compared to other brands, Honda was not keen on updating their vehicles that often, and thus, there are to date only four generations Honda Acty. The last generation has been in production since 2009.
Unlike many of the other trucks on this list, the Nissan Sunny Truck was not a Kei truck, and was also sold outside of Japan for its entire lifespan, however, unfortunately not in the U.S. due to tax law which 25 tax tariffs placed on light trucks (Chicken tax). It was incredibly popular in South Africa where it was the most ever sold commercial vehicle.
The Sunny truck debuted in 1971 as the B120, and was marketed as a commercial truck. And was based upon the previous generation Nissan Sunny sedan, the B110.
The Sunny Truck was powered by a 1.2L I4 producing 69hp. The South African market received a larger 1.4L I4 due to the emission laws not being as strict, this model was known as the B140.
The B120 quickly became known as a reliable, cheap, and extremely fuel-efficient work truck. The B120 Truck was capable of achieving up to 49 US mph or 4.9L/100 km.
The Nissan Sunny truck is not a Kei truck, rather was based upon the Nissan Sunny Sedan
Produced between 1985 through 1997 the Nissan Datsun D21 replaced the previous generation Datsun 720 Truck. At the time, this truck was considered Nissan’s breakthrough in the international truck market, being sold all over the entire globe – unlike the previous generations where sales were restricted to a few countries only.
Up until 1983, the D21 was marketed as the Datsun D21 in the U.S. and later got renamed the Nissan Datsun D21 as it was marketed in Japan.
The Nissan Datsun D21 received a large variety of I-4 petrol and diesel versions, as well as two 3.0L V6 versions. The D21 was also available with the KA24E engine which was sold in the Nissan 240SX U.S. version.
After 1997, the Nissan Datsun D21 was rebranded into what is today known as the Nissan Frontier.
The Mitsubishi Minicab was first released in 1966 by Mitsubishi Motors. The first generation Minicab featured an air-cooled 359cc two-stroke engine producing 26hp which was actually quite good considering being a Kei truck. And the higher trim level the Super Deluxe received an additional 4hp upping power to 30hp.
Generation one through three only featured Inline-2 engines, whereas generation three received 3 different Inline-3 engines. Later generations utilize inline-fours.
Ever since 2014, the Mitsubishi Minicab is just a rebadged Suzuki Carry.
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