Tokyo Motor Show: Suzuki’s kei throwbacks

Suzuki Mighty Deck 03

The Tokyo Motor Show ended last night, and we have one thing to say: Oh Suzuki, how we’ve missed you. Not only do we not see your funky little cars on US roads any more, but then you show up to the big show with a bunch of throwback concepts. 

Suzuki Carry 01

It’s impossible to describe just how integrated kei cars are to everyday life in Japan. Due to lower taxes and lax parking restrictions, everyone from farmers to food truck operators to delivery companies use them. You can turn your humble Suzuki Carry into a mobile produce market, for example. All of Suzuki’s great concepts were keis, and a peek at their lineup shows just how much diversity is possible despite government mandated dimensions of 3,400 x 1,480 x 2,000 millimeters.

Suzuki Mighty Deck 02

Our favorite was the Suzuki Mighty Deck, a modern kei ute with the face of a creature from Super Mario Brothers and a reference to one of the great kei jidosha of all time, the Suzuki Mighty Boy.

Suzuki Mighty Deck 09Suzuki Mighty Deck 06

As is typical of space-maximizing kei cars, it seats four, but they can be folded flat to accommodate your surfboard or whatnot. The roof is a beachy canvas roll-back style.

Suzuki Mighty Deck 07

The taillights look like the center of a sunflower. Interestingly, when the rear tailgate is folded down, the taillight bezels come with it. In bright yellow, it’s also reminiscent of the Toyota bB Open Deck.

One of the best surprises at the show as a new Suzuki Alto Works, a sport version of the Alto kei car, and a revival of one of the greatest kei nameplates of all time.

Suzuki Alto Works 01

The original Alto Works was introduced in 1985 as one of those insane Japanese cars that could have only been dreamt up during the Bubble Era. Top-spec models were available with AWD and came with a turbocharged, intercooled, multivalve 3-cylinder engine that holds the honor as the first kei motor to bump up against the 64-horsepower limit for kei cars. And that was back when the displacement limit was 543cc, not the current 660.

Suzuki Alto Works 04

Like the 276 Gentleman’s Agreement, 64 horsepower was what the official rating stood as, but in reality the engine probably produced more than that, as aftermarket kits could easily push the rating up to 150 horsepower or more, in a package that weighed 1,320 pounds.

Suzuki Alto Works 08

Sadly, one trait that was not carried over to the new Alto Works was the alphabet soup explosion of decals, detailing everything from the EFI to the twin-cam turbo to the personal message from its creators reading “This model was developed through teamwork of enthusiastic Suzuki engineers. It’s certainly worthy of the name ‘WORKS’.” Oh yeah, and it had pink seats.

Suzuki Alto Works 03

Suzuki didn’t disclose much information about the new Alto Works. They did note it has Recaro seats and a 5-speed manual and some unspecified suspension tweaks. Still, it was good to see the name return after its cancelation in 2000.

Suzuki Air Triser 01

The Suzuki Air Triser isn’t a throwback to a specific vehicle, but the idea of compact vans in general. At 4,200mm long it’s bigger than a kei, but still smaller than an original VW Type 2 microbus.

Suzuki Air Triser 05Suzuki Air Triser interior lounge

The interior seats can be rearranged into a C-shaped lounge area while the screen arching over the middle can display movies, music player controls, or pre-programmed disco ball. It’s nicer than some apartments I’ve lived in.

Suzuki Ignis Sk50016w

The Suzuki Ignis isn’t a kei car either, but the production version of the IM-4 concept that debuted at  its debut at the Geneva Motor Show earlier this year.

Styling cues from past Suzukis appear all over it. The rear vents are from a Suzuki Fronte coupe, the headlight and grille graphic are from a 1977-82 Suzuki Cervo, and the vent in the hood is a callback to the Escudo (aka Geo Tracker).

We’d love to own any number of these cars, but even if these concepts were to see reality, Suzuki automobiles’ departure from the US market sadly precludes any chance of that.

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8 Responses to Tokyo Motor Show: Suzuki’s kei throwbacks

  1. ya_boy_yeti said:

    Im really diggin the Suzuki Air Triser. It looks more confident than what it should, kinda like a wasp. All it takes is just swatting one down and stepping on it. Hope fully the car is more durable.

  2. Oracles said:

    We need these Kei cars here in California.
    back home these cars were/are referred to as fuel sniffers as oppose to gas guzzler like the rest of the cars

    • Tim said:

      Kei cars sound great in concept, but apparently they’re slow, top-heavy, and flat out dangerous in the event of an accident.

      (Seems kind of ridiculous to me, considering that a new MX-5 is only 20″ longer and 10″ wider!)

  3. Randy said:

    Like ’em. A lot.

    Mighty Deck would be usable to me if it had an optional hatch setup like the late-’80s – early-’90s Nissan Pulsar NX (EXA outside U.S.). I have minimal need for a back seat – esp. in day-to-day. As it is, it seems limited in it’s usefulness, with the cargo area being small and open. I REALLY like the woodgrain touches; nice change from everybody else’s offerings.

    The digital dash has my attention, too. There’s no reason that for cars that use digital, it couldn’t be done that way; just has to be recessed or tinted to deal with sunlight.

    http://www.globalsuzuki.com/TMS2015/
    has other info on them.

    Wish they were still in the U.S.

    Cultural question:
    In Japan, do drivers there have the common sense to NOT be checking FB, e-mail and every other thing while driving?

    • Censport said:

      On the cultural question: Yes, from my experience. Someone who lives there full-time might have a different answer, but from spending time in both countries each year, I would have to say Japanese drivers distract themselves far, FAR less than American drivers. To the extent that if I lived in Japan, even Tokyo, I would only drive motorcycles until the weather required an enclosed mode of transportation.

  4. Scotty G said:

    Oh wow, I agree on Suzuki, what a fantastic design team they have / had / have.. That Mighty Deck reminds me of the great Suzuki concepts from the mid-2000s, like my fave, the X Head Concept: https://flic.kr/p/ACPh5d https://flic.kr/p/AWpRhg

  5. Mister K said:

    props to Suzuki for not screwing up it’s logo

  6. Michael said:

    Kei’s are cool, it’s just a pity they don’t work everywhere and would be laughed at in some countries. Eventually we’ll all be driving them in the big cities though.The Mighty Deck is super cool and the Alto looks great too….I picked up a current model Alto brochure in a bullet station last time I was in Japan and the cars and options really are very good, I’d have one for sure as a daily if I lived in a congested big city.

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