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Nissan Introduces New Mini-Wagon

The Clipper Rio.

Nissan Motor has introduced the all-new Clipper Rio “one-box” mini-wagon in Japan. The new Clipper Rio is Nissan’s first one-box mini-wagon and is the fifth mini-vehicle model in the Nissan lineup. The Clipper Rio is supplied by Mitsubishi Motors Corporation under an original equipment manufacturing (OEM) agreement. (Earlier post.)

The Clipper Rio is offered with a choice of two 3-cylinder engines: a single-overhead-cam (SOHC) 12-valve intercooled turbocharged engine, and a naturally aspirated SOHC 12-valve engine. Clipper Rio 2WD models equipped with the naturally aspirated engine are certified as ultra-low emission vehicles (U-LEVs), achieving emission levels that are 50% lower than Japan’s 2005 exhaust emission regulations.

Four-wheel-drive models offer a choice of either a part-time 4WD system (E FOUR) or a full-time 4WD system (G FOUR).

Fuel consumption vs. engine displacement for light-duty vehicles on sale in Japan. Click to enlarge.

Sales of mini-vehicles in Japan have been stronger over the past few years than those of conventional light-duty vehicles, which have been in decline. Japan defines mini-vehicles as vehicles with maximum dimensions of 3.4 meters in length, 2.0 meters in height, 1.48 meters in width, and with engine displacement of less than 0.66 liters.

As a result, the mini-vehicles engines from all automakers range from 0.658 to 0.659 liters in displacement—all just pushing up against the 0.66 liter cap. (See chart at right).

Fuel economy in km/l (y axis) vs. weight in kg (x axis).  Click to enlarge. Chart: MLIT

Japan’s fuel economy standards for light-duty passenger vehicles are based on average fuel economy by weight class, and include mini-vehicles. The target date for compliance is 2010. Japan is introducing another set of standards with a compliance date of 2015.

The chart at the right plots fuel consumption and vehicle weight for light-duty vehicles on the Japanese market. The stepped black line indicates the fuel economy standards for the different weight categories.



I imagine that if kei cars could meet US crash and emission specs, yet sold for less than $10k, they would sell in the United States.



While I was stationed in Japan I was amazed at the burgeoning Kei car craze.

As fuel prices continue their upward trend, this vehicle class will become more and more relevant.

Japan has few natural resources to speak of (99% of their petroleum is imported). For the most part, they are an incredibly energy conscious and frugal culture.

I wanted to bring back a Subaru R2 Sport keicar. It sat 4 comfortably (4 drs), was supercharged, and had 7 spd paddle shifters. It was a blast to drive while returning better than 42mpg on regular unleaded. Federalization requirements shot that idea down.

The closest thing we have to a keicar here in the US is the Honda Fit. It may sound hard to believe, but most Keicars actually make better use of space than the Fit (with their magic seats and all).

Smaller, safer cars would be a welcome change here in the US. I can't tell you how many folks commute solo (no carpooling) to work in their +4,500lbs vehicles around here (SOCAL).

California may consider itself to be a green state, but commuters here are far from it! Waste!


This vehicle kind of resembles my parents' wood stove, although with wheels and probably a kick-in stereo. What is Japan's fascination with the box anyway? Give aerodynamics a chance guys!


I find it surprising that the plot shows the CVT getting the best performance - even better than the manual transmission.


Sid Hoffman

Japan taxes vehicles based on external dimensions, so a box is the best shape to give you the most interior volume at the lowest tax rate. Also, speed limits are rarely above 55mph and much time is spent below 35mph, so aerodynamics don't matter so much for city-driven vehicles. Trust me, the Japanese automakers know what Japanese buyers want.



Good point. I do wonder if a 660cc kei car could keep up on a 70mph freeway commute, as is typical in many places. These are city cars, intended to be easy to park. The market here may be pretty limited in that regard. I could buy a Suzuki Burgman 650 scooter as a 50mpg commuting machine if I really wanted to.

Kei cars strike ms as a four wheeled scooter. Since the engine limits wouldn't apply here, perhaps a 750-1000cc model would work for American commutes.


The gen1 Scion xB was about the closest to a kei we've seen here, very suitable to American usage, but Toyota saw fit to replace it with a much bigger, fatter less economical version.


looks like a Dodge Sprinter had an offspring. What a cute
little wee one, the Rio is. Should be under 10K to puurchase.


I thought the Subaru R2 would have made a neat commuter. Supercharged + intercooled 7 spd CVT w/paddle shifters: up to 60mpg and emitting between 95-120g CO2/km (depending on model).

I wonder how that compares to the lone-occupant +4,500lbs "commuter" SUVs that presently crowd our roads. :)

But I drove the R2 on Japanese streets. For the US market, I could see going to a 1.0 liter turbocharged GDI and upping the length & width (not height) dimensions 10% in each direction. Even if this resulted in decreasing the fuel economy into the 50mpg range- you'd still have a sporty hybrid beater! Didn't GM show 3 mini-car concepts in this range recently?


DieselHybrid:  You may have missed an option.  Had you taken the car apart, imported it as a collection of parts, then reassembled it you may have been able to register it as a "kit car".  Very few rules on those, at least once upon a time.

I once heard a rumor that the only street-legal Porsche 959 in the USA made its entrance that way.


In Canada you can import Japanese cars, as long as they're 15 years old I think. A friend of mine has an 800cc Honda pickup, and I've seen quite a few others around town. Takes a while to get used to the RHD, and I wouldn't want to have a collision.


I owned a Kei car (Subaru Sambar) and they are great for city use. RHD took no time to get used to and they are safe as any small car. Safer than and motorcycle.
I could easily stuff a sofa in the back.


Ford already sells a micro-van in Taiwan and it sells for $10,090. 1$USD = 33NT$. I have traveled to Taiwan many times and see them everywhere. If Ford made them meet US safety standards, they would sell very well in the USA. It's called the Ford Pronto at

Mitsubishi also has a scaled down mini-van called Space Gear for sale in Taiwan.!ut/p/_s.7_0_A/7_0_2I3?PRSHOWCAR874=11

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