Car Culture: Around the World in Five Classic Makes

Car Culture: Around the World in Five Classic Makes

After decades of enjoying enticing tax breaks, the Japanese government has hit the iconic Japanese kei car — a class of diminutive, fuel-sipping cars, vans, and trucks with motorcycle-sized engines and toyish styling — with “a triple whammy of a higher sales tax, higher gasoline tax and higher kei car tax,” according to the New York Times.

More popular than ever thanks to the tax incentives and high gas prices, keis accounted more than 40 percent of new cars sold in Japan last year. But because they’re for almost exclusively domestic consumption — greatly limiting Honda, Toyota, Nissan, Suzuki and smaller manufacturers’ ability to expand market share outside of the country — the Japanese government sees the fuel-efficient car as tax-dollar guzzler.

Alex Kierstein of Road and Track magazine rightly points out that at its core the kei-craze is a government-subsidized phenomenon, born out of Toyko’s push to boost car sales to stimulate the post-WWII economy. But even with that in mind, there’s no question that its popularity is also a reflection of Japan’s demographics, infrastructure, culture, and idiosyncrasies — and the same can be said of other nation’s best-selling models:

Volkswagen Golf

Germans are known for their ruthless efficiency, reflected in this best-selling hatchback that also tops sales in Germany, Austria, Belgium, Switzerland, and Finland. Although hatchbacks are gaining steam in the U.S., they’ve been sales successes in Europe for decades thanks to their large interior space, small footprint, great driver visibility, and uncompromised performance.

Toyota Hilux

This Toyota pick-up truck isn’t available in the States; but for decades it’s been a best-seller in many African and Middle Eastern nations where road conditions are poor and limited manufacturer presence restricts choice.

Ford F-150

In a show of ‘Merican muscle, the Ford F-150’s reign as best-seller in the U.S. spans nearly four decades. The latest iteration uses an aluminum body that drops hundred of pounds and sent competitors back to the drawing board, making it all but certain the American icon will continue to be king.

Holden Commodore

Only Down Under would a boat-sized, rear-wheel drive sedan remain on top for more than 30 years — though rising gas prices have slowed sales recently. Even more pure-Australian fun the nation’s exclusive ‘ute’ body style — a wildly impractical Commodore-based pickup truck (pictured below). General Motors, Holden’s corporate overlord, is on it’s third attempt at importing the sedan to the United States.