When Chrysler says 'CCV' these days, it means Composite Concept Vehicle, the company's latest vision of an affordable car for developing countries. An earlier version was the China Concept Vehicle. And during the car's gestation, there were those at Chrysler who thought the term could have meant 'Crazy Concept Vehicle.'
'That's what people kept saying when we brought the concept to them,' says Ken Mack.
He is executive engineer in charge of program management for the Chrysler advanced engineering unit in Auburn Hills, Michigan. Measured against traditional automotive standards, the reaction was not surprising. The CCV represents a radical change in thinking about how to manufacture a car.
To keep cycle times and assembly costs down, the CCV's entire body consists of four large pieces of injection-molded plastic. The components are so large they must be made with injection molding machines exerting 8.2 million kg of pressure. The 136,000kg molds required for each piece are so large that they must be cut in thirds to be transported.
CCV body pieces are molded in color, not painted, so no paint shop is required by the plant that assembles them.
Each CCV will take one-third as long to assemble as a conventional car. It can be put together in a facility that costs $300,000 and is one-sixth the size of a modern, $1 billion automobile plant in North America.
The CCV would carry a price tag of $6,000 and achieve fuel economy of 4.7 liters/100 km.
Every major automaker covets a chunk of the potential car market in developing countries such as India and China. The challenge lies in building a vehicle that is robust enough for poor roads and bad fuel at a price that appeals to a market more accustomed to motor scooters.
At first, Chrysler thought it could begin with its Neon, a compact-size car by the standards of the USA. But meeting its target specifications would have meant reducing the weight and cost of the original car by 50 percent. Engineers soon concluded it was not possible to start with an existing product and work backward. It would take a more radical approach.
The answer grew out of a challenge in 1994 from two of Chrysler's top executives, President Bob Lutz and Francois Castaing.
As they toy with snap-together plastic car models, the two men asked Mack why Chrysler couldn't make a vehicle that was just as easy to put together. Mack and his engineers accepted the challenge. Their mission is to focus on products and processes for use five to 10 years in the future.
They began to attack costs for the CCV. Mack says they focused on the body, which typically accounts for about 10 percent of total vehicle cost. The interior, which contributes another 10 percent to 20 percent, was another target. Their guiding principle was to simplify everything. They began with the idea of making as much of the car as possible out of molded plastic.
Castaing prodded the team further. A native of France, he found a 1959 Citroen 2CV, a vehicle legendary for its simple design and sent it over to Mack's team.
Castaing pointed out that the vintage car met the CCV's weight and cost targets. The engineers were told if they found a Citroen component they could not improve upon, they should use the Citroen version in the Chrysler CCV.
Castaing's challenge was clear. 'No engineer,' says Mack, 'wants to admit he can't improve on technology from the 1950s.'
Before long, engineers at key Chrysler suppliers were also becoming intrigued by the CCV project, even though the vehicle faced an uncertain future. Their biggest challenge, says Mack, was the plastic body. Chrysler originally hoped to avoid using structural steel entirely. But the amount of plastic required to achieve enough rigidity made the vehicle too heavy. The engineers settled on a four-piece plastic body that is glued together and bolted to a steel frame.
The vehicle, presented publicly at the Frankfurt auto show last fall, measures 3600mm in length and can carry five passengers. It has 203mm of ground clearance.
The CCV's plastic body is made in four sections, left and right outer halves and left and right inner halves. The moldings are made from inexpensive polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a readily available, easily recyclable material used in soft drink bottles. The CCV body contains the equivalent of about 2,100 2-liter bottles.
The CCV has a simple design, both inside and out. Graining for the dashboard and interior pillars is molded into the plastic, eliminating the need for trim panels. No carpeting or sound-deadening materials are used. Occupants slide windows up and down with a large knob that can be twisted to lock the window in position. Canvas straps are used to limit door swing. The light-weight canvas roof extends almost to the rear bumper.
The CCV is powered by an air-cooled, two-cylinder engine producing 25hp. The four-speed manual transmission has a shift lever mounted on the steering column. The 540kg vehicle can achieve a top speed of about 50 kph.
The CCV's utilitarian styling pays homage to the Citroen 2CV.
That appeals to Mack, who collects and restores old cars. He also is chairman of a group that is collecting historical Chrysler vehicles for a company museum. Mack's personal collection of 25 vehicles includes a 1941 Cadillac convertible, 1955 Packard Caribbean, a 1960 Windsor and a 1962 Pontiac Grand Prix.
'I like things that are unique,' says Mack. The Chrysler CCV certainly qualifies.