Fit for purpose, completely function over form, does what it was built to do and not much else – I really love a good utility vehicle. But there’s always an exception to the rule.
Of all the utility vehicles dreamed up by the minds of progressive engineers, the humble pick-up truck (‘ute’ if you’re in Australia, ‘bakkie’ in South Africa, and ‘camioncino’ for those in Italy) is by far the choice of the people. That’s partly because the people can drive one with a normal car licence, and also because, compared to an armoured tank, most resemble a standard car. And we like standard cars, because standard cars can be modified.
In most countries, pick-up trucks follow the traditional ‘coupe utility’ formula, built on a car chassis with a tray behind the cabin. It means you get all the comfort of a passenger car, with the bonus of being able to haul around a ton of sand or the contents of your mate’s flat when their lease expires.
Naturally, the Japanese do things a little differently.
Back in the ’70s, Japanese buyers had a few options for a tray-back truck. The Subaru Brat, Datsun Sunny, Mazda B1600 and of course the Toyota Hilux just a few of them. All of these are highly desirable in today’s market, even if the only thing many are now carrying in the back is an Air Lift Performance tank.
For brand new pick-up buyers in Japan, there are a two main options when it comes to work trucks: gigantic or miniature. The micro truck is basically what’s taken over from the classic ‘ute’-style car here. They’re basically a kei truck, which means they’re cheap to run and most can carry up to around 800kg.
This bunch of mini transformer-looking kei trucks I found at the 2022 Osaka Auto Messe are from Sho Produce. The Himeji-based kei car specialist offers all kinds of body kits, brake kits, suspension setups and wheels for most popular models.
Just like the modified kei cars from the show, it’s pretty common to see tradies rocking these little trucks with fat body kits and lowered ride heights. I guess it makes it easier getting your toolbox in and out of the back.
The other extreme of these little trucks is mammoth American pick-ups like the Dodge Ram and Ford F150. These are much less common in Japan, but somehow people still seem to manage squeezing them down the country’s narrow little streets. They must be pretty limiting, though.
That’s why these little micro trucks have conquered the trades landscape. They just fit, both physically and economically.
Kei cars and trucks all fit into a certain engine displacement and physical dimension restriction. That means that having a ‘cab over’ layout gives more space in the back for your load. Having something the size of a Datsun Sunny would mean paying standard size car taxes, and that means less money for Boss coffee and drill bits.
The Daihatsu Hijet is definitely one of the classics – it’s been lugging cargo since 1960. Check out the fitment on this example.
Personally, it’s the S65 versions with the round headlights from the ’80s that really tickle my fancy. But just like their Aussie equivalent (Holden SS, anyone?), trucks are not always about work. There’s a fair amount of play, too.
This Suzuki Carry has a 1.3L four-stroke Suzuki Hayabusa engine bolted to its chassis. When fitted to the bike it made 175PS and revved to 9,800rpm. Throw its 6-speed sequential gearbox into the mix here, and you’ve got a potent kei re-power package that will get this mundane work vehicle drifting with the best of them.
With a stock curb weight of 780kg, this thing is going to be an absolute riot when it’s finished. I’ll definitely be asking if I can ride shotgun the next time I’m back in Osaka.
Much like Sho Produce, Hello Special are another company that specialises in kei car and – more importantly – kei truck body kits and parts. These guys have kits for all the big (little) hitters – Every, Scrum, Carry, Hijet and Acty.
The thing that really makes these little trucks look tough is the rear body panels, which extend the standard tray back down to the floor. Hello Special is the same company that had the bosozoku Chaser in my last story.
I loved their mascots, especially the bosozoku bunny, who was hard at work throwing shapes all day. The whole team kept the vibes high and the crowds soaked up the atmosphere. Somehow the Japanese manage to make being obnoxious adorable.
The stacks of gold tie in nicely with the audacious gold wrap, although I did wonder how many carrots they added up to. Maybe the bunny knows…
The Japanese kei truck is definitely a product of its environment, the needs of the people, and a little bit of Japanese quirk – and it totally works in Japan. As with any other mode of transport, but especially commercial vehicles, it’s always great to see people pushing the limits and just having a bit of fun.
And with that, we wrap up our coverage from the 2022 Osaka Auto Messe. Although, it’s not my last story from Osaka on this particular trip…