Minicars Popular among Japan's Aging Drivers

2018-10-20

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1
  • In Japan, very small automobiles traditionally were meant for families seeking a low-cost form of transportation.
  • 2
  • But these minicars, also known as kei-cars, have instead become popular with another group of drivers: older adults.
  • 3
  • Honda's N-Box model car, for example, is very small.
  • 4
  • The car is equipped with technology designed to make it safe and easy to drive.
  • 5
  • The N-Box has been marketed mainly to young families.
  • 6
  • But Honda has found that about half of its owners are 50 years of age or older.
  • 7
  • Carmakers have hoped that by adding high-technology equipment, young people could be persuaded to buy minicars.
  • 8
  • Yet the number of Japanese drivers under age 30 has fallen by nearly 40 percent since 2001.
  • 9
  • Minicars are not costly.
  • 10
  • Prices start at about $7,500, and ownership taxes are low.
  • 11
  • For those reasons, the cars have gained a loyal following among Japan's growing number of elderly.
  • 12
  • Many of them very often earn about the same amount of money from one year to the next.
  • 13
  • One out of every three passenger cars sold in Japan is a minicar.
  • 14
  • Tortoise, an auto dealership south of Tokyo, specializes in minicars.
  • 15
  • Seventy percent of its buyers are older adults.
  • 16
  • "After their children are grown and leave home, more people are looking to downsize from larger family cars to more compact ones," noted Kiminori Murano, a managing director at Tortoise.
  • 17
  • All of Japan's major carmakers sell low cost, fuel-efficient cars.
  • 18
  • These vehicles are produced mainly for Japanese buyers.
  • 19
  • With very small engines, they are considered too small for foreign markets.
  • 20
  • Some industry experts are predicting that automated cars, taxis and buses will keep older people active later in life.
  • 21
  • But until those high-tech products become a reality, kei-cars are likely to continue to be popular in Japan, a country with an aging population.
  • 22
  • The Reuters news agency recently spoke with Hideaki Takaishi, a safety engineer at Honda.
  • 23
  • He said that one safety device uses sensors to observe a vehicle's surroundings and identify whether the driver has pressed the wrong pedal.
  • 24
  • Carmakers also are trying to develop artificial intelligence systems that can advise drivers.
  • 25
  • Such advice could include warnings about safety risks, such as if the vehicle is moving toward the side of the road.
  • 26
  • Takaishi said systems like this will help older drivers.
  • 27
  • "They really want to maintain their independence while they're driving, and it's a skill they've honed over many years," he said.
  • 28
  • In Japan, the number of people aged 60 and older with a driver's permit is growing faster than in other developed countries.
  • 29
  • In many rural areas, some people are driving into their 80s and 90s.
  • 30
  • This has led to increased traffic accidents for older drivers, although the total number of accidents is decreasing.
  • 31
  • Last year, the elderly were involved in 55 percent of Japan's traffic accidents.
  • 32
  • To deal with the problem, Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry launched a program to support safety technologies.
  • 33
  • The program provides a logo that manufacturers can use to identify cars with the new safety aids.
  • 34
  • People buying such cars can save on accident insurance.
  • 35
  • The safety technology may only increase the popularity of Japan's Kei-cars.
  • 36
  • I'm Mario Ritter.
  • 1
  • In Japan, very small automobiles traditionally were meant for families seeking a low-cost form of transportation. But these minicars, also known as kei-cars, have instead become popular with another group of drivers: older adults.
  • 2
  • Honda's N-Box model car, for example, is very small. The car is equipped with technology designed to make it safe and easy to drive.
  • 3
  • The N-Box has been marketed mainly to young families. But Honda has found that about half of its owners are 50 years of age or older.
  • 4
  • Carmakers have hoped that by adding high-technology equipment, young people could be persuaded to buy minicars. Yet the number of Japanese drivers under age 30 has fallen by nearly 40 percent since 2001.
  • 5
  • Minicars are not costly. Prices start at about $7,500, and ownership taxes are low. For those reasons, the cars have gained a loyal following among Japan's growing number of elderly. Many of them very often earn about the same amount of money from one year to the next.
  • 6
  • One out of every three passenger cars sold in Japan is a minicar.
  • 7
  • Tortoise, an auto dealership south of Tokyo, specializes in minicars. Seventy percent of its buyers are older adults.
  • 8
  • "After their children are grown and leave home, more people are looking to downsize from larger family cars to more compact ones," noted Kiminori Murano, a managing director at Tortoise.
  • 9
  • All of Japan's major carmakers sell low cost, fuel-efficient cars. These vehicles are produced mainly for Japanese buyers. With very small engines, they are considered too small for foreign markets.
  • 10
  • Carmakers deal with Japan's aging population
  • 11
  • Some industry experts are predicting that automated cars, taxis and buses will keep older people active later in life. But until those high-tech products become a reality, kei-cars are likely to continue to be popular in Japan, a country with an aging population.
  • 12
  • The Reuters news agency recently spoke with Hideaki Takaishi, a safety engineer at Honda. He said that one safety device uses sensors to observe a vehicle's surroundings and identify whether the driver has pressed the wrong pedal. Carmakers also are trying to develop artificial intelligence systems that can advise drivers.
  • 13
  • Such advice could include warnings about safety risks, such as if the vehicle is moving toward the side of the road.
  • 14
  • Takaishi said systems like this will help older drivers.
  • 15
  • "They really want to maintain their independence while they're driving, and it's a skill they've honed over many years," he said.
  • 16
  • In Japan, the number of people aged 60 and older with a driver's permit is growing faster than in other developed countries.
  • 17
  • In many rural areas, some people are driving into their 80s and 90s. This has led to increased traffic accidents for older drivers, although the total number of accidents is decreasing.
  • 18
  • Last year, the elderly were involved in 55 percent of Japan's traffic accidents.
  • 19
  • To deal with the problem, Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry launched a program to support safety technologies. The program provides a logo that manufacturers can use to identify cars with the new safety aids. People buying such cars can save on accident insurance.
  • 20
  • The safety technology may only increase the popularity of Japan's Kei-cars.
  • 21
  • I'm Mario Ritter.
  • 22
  • Mario Ritter adapted this Reuters' story for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
  • 23
  • __________________________________________________________________
  • 24
  • Words in This Story
  • 25
  • elderly - n. older adults
  • 26
  • compact - adj. smaller than other things of the same kind
  • 27
  • managing - adj. administrative or supervisory
  • 28
  • automated - adj. robotic; self-operating
  • 29
  • pedal - n. a flat piece of metal that is pushed with the foot to make a machine move or work
  • 30
  • artificial intelligence - n. ability of a machine to use and analyze data in an attempt to reproduce human behavior
  • 31
  • hone - v. to make something better
  • 32
  • logo - n. a symbol that is used to identify a company or organization and that appears on its products
  • 33
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