City-beater beaten by quotas

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Indy Lifestyle Online
The most exciting and practical city cars in the world are being produced by Japanese manufacturers - and British drivers are not allowed to buy them. Import restrictions mean they cannot be brought in profitably, despite the fact that they are brilliantly adapted to London's increasingly congested urban roads.

Typical of the new breed of Japanese city car is the Mitsubishi Dangan. Big enough inside for four six-footers, it is only nine inches longer than the Mini - but there the similarities stop. The Dangan's tiny 660cc engine has twin camshafts, an intercooled turbocharger, five-valves per cylinder totalling 20 valves and multi-point fuel injection. It revs to a terrifying 9,000rpm. If this were not enough, the Dangan (which means bullet in Japanese) has a permanent four-wheel-drive system, air conditioning, power steering, anti-lock brakes and electric windows.

Mitsubishi UK has imported just one Dangan to show us Brits how the Japanese are tackling their appalling traffic problems. It is sold in the 'K-class sector, where engine size is limited to 660cc, producing no more than 64bhp.

About 1.6 million K-cars are sold in Japan each year (the total UK market is only 1.8 million). Competitors for the Dangan come from manufacturers like Daihatsu, Mazda and Honda.

The Japanese government offers incentives such as free parking to Tokyo motorists willing to buy one of the minicars. Their simple, but nevertheless effective philosophy is that roads and parking areas will be less congested if the majority of urban motorists are driving small cars.

Despite the efforts of Mitsubishi UK, however, Londoners must wait until the end of the century, when import quotas from Japan are abolished, before they can buy the new breed of K-car.

European sensitivity over Far Eastern imports is running at a record high level, and any increase in the quota would be too politically sensitive in countries like Italy and France.

But the demand is certainly present - especially in London. As the Mitsubishi UK spokesman David Miles says: 'The response has been incredible - the only people who are not interested appear to be the Government.

(Photograph omitted)