Bye-Bye UTV: Why Japanese Mini Trucks Are Winning The Off-Road War 

Japanese mini trucks may be quite new on the scene in the US market, but wherever they pop up, they seem to get a fanatical following. So what is it about these little machines that’s putting the squeeze on UTV side-by-side sales?

But before we dive into this particular question, let’s get something straight: What are these Japanese mini trucks? Well, first of all, we’re not talking HotWheels! They’re not that “mini”. You may have heard of kei vehicles from Japan – small vehicles with a maximum engine size of 600cc. Well, that’s what these are – kei trucks – but called “mini trucks” for the US market.

Just imagine someone took your favorite regular truck and did a magic “Honey-I-Shrunk-The Kids” move on it so it was now about 14 feet long, 4.5 feet wide and around 6 feet tall … but with all those road-going truck amenities. Voila! That’s your Japanese mini truck in a nutshell.

Now, in Japan, these little runabouts are everywhere and can drive on-road – even on the highways at highway speeds. Unfortunately, in America, small vehicles like this just don’t meet the DOT safety standards and you can only get them for off-road use only. But, most states will treat them exactly like a UTV – so anywhere a UTV can go, a mini truck can go, too.

Still not tracking with me? Well, take a look at some mini trucks for sale at Mini Truck Depot – the “Autotrader” of the mini truck world. You see! You’ve got the picture? So now you know what they are, let’s put these Japanese mini trucks head-to-head with UTVs

6 Reasons Japanese Mini Trucks Are Beating UTVs To The Off-Road Crown

1. They’re Comfortable

If you’re a young guy or gal, heading out for a blast on the trails in the back country is an exhilarating rush. There’s no denying that. Drifting through sand and gravel through incredible natural beauty with your friends can be an amazing way to spend your weekend.

But what if you need to get a job done? What if you’re a rancher, in forestry, you work on a college campus or something like that: Do you really want to have to strap on a helmet and goggles, and get blasted with gravel so you arrive with grass in your teeth and your back feeling like you’ve been bull riding at the rodeo?

Of course not. You want to climb into your fully weather-proof cab, get comfortable in the adjustable seat, set your coffee mug in the cup holder, press the starter button to get the (whisper quiet) engine running, flip the lights on, turn on the windshield wipers, and go off to get that job done.

Remember the “Honey I Shrunk The Truck” picture? Well, that’s the mini truck. Unlike the UTV, it really does have all those things you would expect from your full-size on-road truck, just in a “mini” package.

To rattle off some more features – power windows, remote door unlocking, power steering, stereo, interior lighting, proper doors and windows, proper heater / AC with adjustable vents and … well the list could go on for a while.

And all of this is built on a chassis developed by top automotive companies like Toyota, Suzuki, Daihatsu and others. So when you’re out there in the fields or driving along the trail, you’re enjoying that much stronger, full automotive grade frame and advanced independent suspension for a smoother, back-protecting ride.

2. A Configuration For Every Job

Perhaps the name is giving you the wrong impression. It’s true – some mini trucks are pickup style … but they don’t stop there. In fact, there are five major configurations for you to choose from, giving you a lot more choice than you get from your usual UTV maker.

So, there’s the regular cab pick-up models, but there are also Jumbo or extended cab ones that have more space in the cab. And it’s not just for storing stuff inside there with you, it also means the seats have more reclining adjustment along with a dash of extra headroom. Of course, there’s a slight sacrifice of load bed length … but since it’s already longer than you’ll find on a UTV anyway, that’s not an issue.

And if you need to dump as well as haul? Well, there’s the dump models with HD strengthened load beds and powerful electro-hydraulic or even PTO mechanisms – again, each right for a different kind of job.

But life’s not just about hauling and dumping. What if you want to move more people? Well, then you want to take a look at the van or crew cab models with their sliding rear doors that can take 4 people with gear. The vans are perfect for college or hospital campuses, and the crew cabs work great as fun vehicles, or for grandma to strap the young ones in to go see what pop’s doing out in the fields. (With safety belts for all passengers, as well as airbags, ABS and other car-like safety gear, these mini trucks definitely have UTVs beaten when it comes to looking after those squishy humans inside.)


3. Built By Top-Draw Automakers

Everyone has either had a Japanese car, or knows someone who has, so you know the overwhelming impression people have of the quality of these vehicles is very positive.

Well, what if I told you that the number 1 mini truck manufacturer in Japan is Daihatsu. Don’t know Daihatsu? Okay, let’s put it this way: Daihatsu is a fully-owned subsidiary of Toyota (just like Lexus is) with 108 years of history that has built over 7 million mini trucks. The #2 guys, Suzuki, also have a similarly storied history.

Impressive, right? Yep, these are the companies that are designing and building these mini trucks. Not some agricultural equipment manufacturer. Not a new name from China or India. No, we’re talking about Japanese-brand household names that you know and love – particularly for their bullet-proof quality.

I can’t think of a UTV that can match that and, if you want to see the proof, all you have to do is to get one of each up on lifts and take a look at the way they are designed and put together where no one normally looks – underneath.

4. Fuel-Sipping Economy

This story starts where we just left off talking about how these Japanese mini trucks are built to automotive standards by Japanese household name automakers: You see, you get an engine designed and built to on-road automotive standards, meaning you get a quieter, smoother and (best of all) economical package.

So, your typical UTV is going to be averaging around 20 miles per gallon. But your mini truck? It’s hitting 35 to 40 miles per gallon. And if you’re thinking about getting a mini truck to use around the ranch instead of a regular pickup truck? Well then the gap’s going to be more like between 10 MPG for the pickup truck as compared with that 35 to 40 miles per gallon for the Japanese mini truck.

Maybe fuel prices have been nosing down again in the last month, but they’re still high. Will they end up heading north again at some point? Only Vlad knows – but you can make sure you aren’t caught out by choosing the vehicle with clearly far superior fuel economy.

5. Pricing

Now this is a little tricky. You don’t want to be the guy that compares apples with oranges. So, let’s get something straight: The mini trucks come loaded with equipment, I mean really loaded … so much so that some of this equipment isn’t even available when you order your UTV.

So when you head to the UTV dealer to get a price quote, make sure you check all those option boxes – because all those extra-cost add-on options for that UTV are going to be on the mini truck already. (Plus the mini truck is going to have some stuff that your UTV dealer won’t even be able to get for you.)

The result? By the time you’ve done this, you’ll see you have a choice between a UTV that’s a few thousand dollars more expensive (but with less equipment) and the Japanese mini truck.

But, wait a moment. We’re not quite done, because then you need to figure out the cost of all the extra fuel that UTV’s going to drink over the years and load that onto the UTV price as well. And, suddenly, there’s really no competition: The mini truck is the price winner by far.

6. Instant Celebrity (For The Moment)

You would not believe how much attention these mini trucks attract. Here’s the deal: Most of America hasn’t even seen one. So, get one, snap a picture and put it on Facebook, and within an hour you’ll have half your friends’ list showing up to “have a go”.

Mini truck dealers even report people doing U-turns on the highway just to come back, take a selfie with a mini truck they have parked outside, and inquire about these vehicles. Who does selfies with UTVs? No one.

But if you’re a shrinking violet and don’t want the attention, well don’t worry: Everywhere these Japanese mini trucks show up, they’re like little evangelists, converting the skeptical UTV-lover to a firm mini truck fan. So it won’t be long before there are so many around, your mini truck won’t stand out nearly as much.

So The Mini Truck Wins, Right?

Having read this far, you may have the impression that mini trucks have UTVs beat, but that’s not really the full picture. It’s not as clear cut as all that. What it really boils down to is having the right tool for the job.

If it’s off-road adrenaline thrills you’re looking for, then the  visceral experience of pounding the dirt in a UTV side-by-side is hard to beat. On the other hand if have a job that needs doing, or you’re getting older and just want more comfort and a cup holder for your favorite caffeinated brew, then the mini truck’s not just going to hit your goals much more effectively, but you’ll also find your wallet thanks you for all those Benjamins you’ve saved as well.

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