Cancelled car projects are sort of like the Ark of the Covenant — they make a huge initial impression, melt a few faces, and end up in some dusty warehouse, almost totally forgotten. Chrysler's innovative plastic developing-world car of the 1990s, the CCV, was a project like this.
The CCV project started in the late 90s at pre-Daimler-merger Chrysler, and the project was focused on developing radical new techniques in design and construction with the goal of making a very inexpensive car for developing markets. Bryan Nesbitt, the man behind the design of the PT Cruiser, was in charge of the project.
The name chosen for the project is especially telling: it technically stands for Composite Concept Vehicle, referencing the extensive use of plastic composites (recycled soda bottle plastic, even!) but those of you with advanced letter-counting skills will note that the name has two C's and a V. You could even express this as 2(C)+V, or maybe even 2CV.
Hey, wait a minute. 2CV, CCV — you don't think— oh, but I do think. The fundamental design of the Chrysler CCV was absolutely, unashamedly, based on the venerable old Citröen 2CV. The choice makes perfect sense for the goals the project had in mind: the basic 2CV design has been proven over decades to be a viable, rugged, cheap, and incredibly successful basic-transportation vehicle.
Looking at the designs side-by-side make this abundantly clear. The fundamental shape is the same, the packaging is the same, the interior layout is the same, hell, they both even use twin-cylinder air-cooled engines (2CV uses a flat-twin, the CCV used a Briggs and Stratton sourced 25 HP V-twin).
I'm not sure this has ever happened quite like this in the history of motoring. Sure, car companies have cribbed one another's ideas, and in some cases, even adapted an entire philosophy of design (I'm thinking Corvair from Porsche/VW) to make a production car. But I don't know if a company has ever so openly and blatantly adapted the entire fundamental design of another company's car into a project of their own, complete with an homage in the name.
Don't get me wrong — I have nothing but respect for Chrysler being able to get over stupid corporate chauvinism and pride and find a solution that worked best. And, by basing their design on something known and proven and tested, they could focus on the innovative manufacturing processes they were developing.
And boy, were they impressive. The entire body of the CCV was injection-molded in these massive presses, and consisted of only four parts. The entire body structure weighed only 210 lbs! I have friends who weigh more than that.
The plastic of the body was really the same PET plastics that soda bottles are made of, and as such the whole body was recyclable. Plus, the color could be blended right into the plastic, so no need to paint, and if you scratch it, it's the same color all the way through.
Crash testing was even pretty decent, considering, though more side protection would be needed for major American/European markets, if it came to that. It was certainly better than the auto-rickshaws and mopeds the car was being developed to replace.
There's incredibly clever touches throughout the entire car. Sure, many of them come from the 2CV, like the roll-back roof, but many are from Chrylser: look at this window design here. It's even simpler than a hand-cranked window. It's just a simple slide, moving the window up and down. No crank, no gears, no window regulator — it makes so much sense I can't believe I haven't seen anything like it before.
The whole 1200 lb-car was supposed to be able to sell for around $6000, and the manufacturing facilities were to be much simpler than almost anything else. A CCV could be built in about 6.5 hours — compare that to 19 for a Neon.
Once Daimler mated with Chrysler, the whole CCV project was summarily axed. Some of the composites research did go on to allow things like those nice plastic one-piece Jeep hardtops and other components, but the whole developing-world super-cheap car part of things was just not interesting to Diamler.
The Tata Nano has managed to be an even cheaper car, even if people aren't really buying it because it's too cheap, but still. I think axing the CCV project was a real shame — the car had a very appealing design, it seemed incredibly flexible and useful, and the reports from the ones they had testing in Africa and Brazil did quite well.
I'd still love to see the idea a real, classless, multi-use cheap, rugged car make a comeback, and I remember hoping at the time that this plucky little CCV would be it. It wasn't, of course, but I do think it's a car worth remembering.