It’s taken 65 years and 7 months, but Suzuki announced on May 11 that it has sold 25 million kei cars. That’s not a huge number compared to, say, the Toyota Corolla, which has sold over 44 million of a single model. However, when you consider the fact that the Corolla is a global model and kei cars are sold almost exclusively inside Japan and a few other Asian countries, that’s a pretty impressive statistic.
Suzuki is a real pro at the kei car game. It all began in October 1955 with the Suzulight, which was in fact Japan’s first kei car. It was also Suzuki’s first foray in to four-wheeled vehicles, and while it wasn’t a hugely popular seller, it did set the company on the path of building cars.
It should come as no surprise that the ubiquitous Carry kei truck was a huge contributor to the sales volume. The little workhorse sold 4.67 million units since its introduction in 1961, and the name is still being used today. The spin-off van on the same platform, the Every, sold another 3.25 million units on its own.
Introduced in 1962, the Suzuki Fronte was notable for being a top-selling nameplate that is no longer being used. It made it through seven generations but, unlike the models below, was discontinued in 1989. Still, Suzuki managed to sell 1.59 million of them.
April 1970 brought the Jimny, the wildly successful off-road kei car. It was a class-defining model, one that has its own unique fan base. However, Suzuki’s first home run in the kei car segment was the Alto, released May 1979.
It sold for just ¥470,000, a very competitive price at the time. Suzuki originally estimated 5,000 per month, but ended up moving as many as 18,000 a month at its peak with a huge waiting list. Successive generations gave Japan to some real firecrackers in high-performance kei cars. It’s Suzuki’s best-selling nameplate, making up 5.24 million units sold.
The 1993 Wagon R was the second-most popular model in Suzuki’s history, selling 4.81 million units. It revolutionized kei car design, pioneering the space-maximizing tall wagon shape that dominates the segment today.
And finally, the Suzuki Spacia added 1.01 million to the total. This is particularly impressive considering that it was introduced in 2013, meaning it has the shortest production run of all the million-plus models.
Suzuki may not be the first company you think of when it comes to Japanese cars, but it sells more vehicles in Japan annually than Subaru, Mazda, or Mitsubishi. Kei cars are an essential part of Japan’s automotive landscape, providing easy ownership in both crowded urban environments and rural areas where public transportation isn’t available. And since kei cars are built to strict dimensions, we can calculate pretty easily that if you parked all 25 million Suzuki kei cars nose to tail, they would circumnavigate the Earth 2.1 times. That’s a lot of kei cars any way you cut it.