The “K” in K-car refers to the make of vehicle associated with one of the most popular cars from Chrysler.
When was the K-Car first invented? Is the Reliant K the same as the Robby Reliant? Are K-Cars still produced?
Keep reading to learn more!
Here’s What K-Car Means When Referring To A Car
The K Car is a series of cars originally produced by Chrysler in the 1980s. The vehicles have several distinctive features, including a compact build and front-wheel drive. They were purposefully designed to be compact, with smaller engines, to address rising fuel and energy costs.
The Chrysler K Platform is by far the most popular of the K series. However, the car design is believed to have originated in Japan to refer to small, unassuming vehicles. The term can sometimes be used today to refer to cheaply designed cars.
But this isn’t an accurate remembrance of these vehicles. They were the original high-performing, compact cars, which were also affordable.
The term “K Car” refers to the model. Chrysler has many car lines, including the Extended Wheel Drive (E car) and the Chrysler Minivan S series. Therefore, the K models were simply the K series, much like the E car and S vans.
As we pointed out above, “K car” has become a slang term for small cars.
This is partially due to two probable reasons:
- The cars were marketed as small, durable vehicles
- The name reflects the Japanese word “Kei Car”
Around the same time Chrysler worked on their compact model, Japanese Kei Cars were popular among consumers. The term “Kei Car” means compact or small car, which Chrysler was aiming for at the time.
Therefore, the K-car line was rolled out in the early 1980s to address fuel shortages and quality issues.
Is the Robby Reliant a K Car?
The Robby or Robin Reliant is not a K-car model. This somewhat strange, three-wheeled vehicle is commonly confused with Chrysler’s Reliant K car. However, they are very different vehicles and aren’t produced by the same car manufacturers.
After browsing several forums on the K-Car topic, there needed to be more clarity about the Robby Reliant. We will delve into the different Chrysler K car models later, but we wanted to clear up this confusion first.
The Robby or Robin Reliant was a three-wheeled car created in England between the 1970s to early 2000s. It was meant to qualify as a motorcycle for those hoping to save money on car insurance.
However, the car didn’t have a good balance, and the manufacturer was forced to use plastic windows. If you want to see this car in action, check out Jeremy Clarkson on Top Gear driving this vehicle around Egland.
In short, although the names are similar, the Robin Reliant is not the same as Chrysler’s Reliant K car.
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Why Are They Called K-Car?
Chrysler’s K-cars got their name thanks to the model code given to them by the manufacturer. The K series was a series of small cars designed to compete with the small Kei Cars from Japan. Notable traits of these cars include their two benches and 6-passenger seating meant to maximize space while minimizing fuel consumption.
K cars were introduced in the 1980s to compete with the smaller, sturdier, and more appealing Japanese models. Foreign cars were famous for their durability and design, while American manufacturers were known for bulky, ugly gas guzzlers.
The Japanese Kei Car Association reports that up to 39% of Japanese cars are registered as Kei Cars. In Japan, this term comes from the Japanese word “Kei-Ji-Dou-Sya.” This term loosely translates as “lightweight car.”
Therefore, Kei means “Light” or is sometimes used to refer to “small.” The Chrysler K-car was so-called to compete with these beautiful, cheap, lightweight cars from Japan.
Some notable features of the car’s design include:
- Lightweight build
- Smaller, fuel-efficient engine (2,500 pounds)
- Four-cylinder (most cars were V8 back then)
- Front-wheel drive
- Compact yet spacious design
- Two bench seats capable of holding six passengers
- Leather interior
Who Makes K-Cars In America?
Chrysler is the biggest manufacturer of K cars in America. Although some models were sold under the Dodge name, they were still owned by Chrysler. The confusion arises from the fact that Dodge and Chrysler are separate manufacturers but owned by the same parent company.
Dodge and Chrysler were originally separate companies that later joined under a parent company.
Dodge was founded in the year 1900 by the Dodge Brothers Company. Chrysler was founded in the year 1925 by the Maxwell Motor Company, which was later reorganized into the Chrysler Corporation.
In 1928 Chrysler purchased the rights to Dodge, and the two merged. By the time the 1980s rolled in, both Chrysler and Dodge were separate manufacturers under a parent company.
Therefore, the Dodge Aries was marketed as Dodge but manufactured by Chrysler. Chrysler owns all K-cars; thus, even the Dodge Aries is a Chrysler vehicle.
To this day, Dodge and Chrysler are owned by Stellantis.
What Are Some Of The K-Car Models?
The Dodge Aries K-car and Plymouth Reliant are the most popular K-car models. However, there were a total of fourteen different models in circulation between 1981 and 1989. Some of these models include the Dodge 400 and Chrysler LeBaron.
The Dodge Aries and Plymouth Reliant were the first and most popular models in the K series. In fact, the Dodge Aries was heralded as the car that saved Chrysler from bankruptcy.
This YouTube video dives deeply into the fall and resurrection of the Chrysler company. However, to briefly summarize their financial crisis, the Chrysler company made a negative reputation for itself.
Chrysler lost significant profits in the 1970s and 80s thanks to its cheap car designs and bulky engines. To adapt to the shifting environment, Chrysler’s new CEO, Lee Iacocca, rolled out the K-Car models.
Thanks in part to his genius handling of the crisis and the car’s stylish yet efficient build, Chrysler bounced back.
The complete list of K-Cars includes the following:
- Dodge Dart K
- Valiant Volare K
- Volare by Chrysler
- Volare by Chrysler)
- Dart by Chrysler
- Dodge 600
- Plymouth Caravelle Coupe
- Dodge Magnum 400 and Turbo
- Chrysler 600
- Dodge Aries
- Chrysler LeBaron
- Chrysler LeBaron Town and Country
Are K-Cars Still Manufactured?
K-cars are no longer produced. Chrysler ceased making them in 1989 as they introduced several new models to take their place. The move was not due to their poor sales performance, but rather a new buyers market seeking new innovations.
The Chrysler K-Car lines officially ended in 1995. The Spirit line consisted of cars with slightly larger V6 engines and more powerful capabilities.
With the uptick in the market throughout the 80s and 90s, people wanted more from their cars. These newer models were suited to engines that consumed more fuel but produced greater speeds.
Although these cars aren’t produced, there are some still driven on the road today!
To continue using your K-car make sure you perform regular maintenance. You might need to replace the engine and transmission on the oldest models if they were maintained by the previous owners.
How Many K-Cars Are Still Around?
There are currently less than 30,000 K-Cars still in working order. They are usually convertible cars and only get driven for short periods. They are normally luxury show cars rather than a utilitarian cars driven for work commutes.
The K-Car was an efficient, space-effective, and appealing vehicle. They met the needs of the market of the time and energy crisis.
However, they were soon forgotten after the market boom of the late 80s and early 90s. They saved Chrysler, though, and brought Americans through the energy shortage!
They’ll go down in history as the reliable vehicle that saved Chrysler from certain bankruptcy!
Wikipedia: Chrysler K platform
Croooober: K Cars – All you need to know about them
Hagerty: The letter car that saved Chrysler
Dale Howard Auto Center: The History of Chrysler from 1920-Present
Ola the Dodge: Is Chrysler Dodge?
Car and Driver: Remembering the K-Car: Chrysler’s Savior Gets No Respect