By on October 11, 2012

The rise of low-cost cars has captured our attention at TTAC for more than just our love of obscure cars. With mainstream brands being hollowed out in Europe, low-cost cars are becoming the new default choice for the 99 percent, and making them profitably presents an even greater challenge. While Dacia and Datsun get a lot of attention around here, we have to give credit to Chrysler for their novel approach to the low-cost car, long before the Sandero was even a glimmer in James May’s eye. The Chrysler CCV, shown above, was Chrysler’s attempt at building a low-cost car that eventually died in the midst of the Daimler-Chrysler merger. While most low-cost cars have their roots in existing mainstream cars, the CCV was a radically different proposition. Everything about the CCV was designed with the low-cost mantra in mind.

The car’s body panels were made via injection molding with a specially-designed resign. The four pieces could be colored from the get-go, eliminating the need for a paint shop, saving hundreds of millions of dollars. The production process was similarly designed for simplicity and cost-effectiveness. Only four basic panels were needed, in addition to the doors, hood and canvas roof, all of which were anchored to a steel frame. Adhesive was used instead of hardware, save for four bolts.

The body panels were designed to be recyclable as well. A CCV required 25 percent of the parts that a comparable 1998 Neon used, and took 6 hours to build, versus 19 for a Neon. Power came from a two-cylinder air-cooled engine, designed for simplicity and ease of maintenance. While 50 mpg was expected, the engine only produced 25 horsepower and 60 mph came in an estimated 25 seconds. And all for the rock bottom price of $6,000.

Sound too good to be true? The CCV died a quiet death shortly after its public introduction, apparently the victim of Daimler’s veto. The CCV’s one saving grace may have been not making it into production; the Tata Nano, which is similar in concept, ended up flopping in its home market of India. According to Citroen enthusiast George Dyke, who wrote an article comparing the CCV with the Citroen 2CV, buyers in the Chinese market that could afford a motor vehicle wanted one with the same creature comforts as mainstream cars, as opposed to basic transportation like the CCV. This sentiment is hardly confined to China, and is doubtlessly a driving force behind the success of “premium” low-cost cars like the Dacias, which offer most of the features of a comparable Renault for significantly less money.

Of course, no Dacia has ever gone on display at the MoMA.


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33 Comments on “Chrysler’s Low Cost Car Experiment...”

  • avatar

    Mr. Dyke was hardly original with the comparison with the 2CV. The designers themselves said the 2CV was their inspiration.

    They looked similar and the name was a homage to the 2CV anyways.

    You’d have to be an imbecile to not count the # of Cs in CCV.

  • avatar

    Huge windows, small footprint, whole thing being one giant plastic bumper. This thing would’ve been pretty good little city runabout. I would rather Chrysler built this than the Caliber.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    A Neon face and resin panels? A Neosaturn!

  • avatar

    Too bad people won’t accept they have to compromise when they’re not rich ~ the Tata Nano should have sold well as so many Indians suffer on Scooters now .

    When I were a laddie , lots of basic cars like this sold well and made money , even in the U.S. .

    I still drive one daily : a 1959 Nash Metropolitan Fixed Head Coupe ~ when built is was a two seater In Town Coupe that easily delivered 40 MPG albeit at a top speed of 50 MPH =/- .

    It was a clever design , wretchedly cheaply built but it’s still going strong on one engine rebuild and I converted it to Automatic Tranny after being injured .

    It still gets 35 + MPG and easily goes 70 MPH .

    I’m sure some people would buy this CCV but prolly not enough to make a profit for Chrysler .


    • 0 avatar

      There are both many differences and similarities between your Nash and the CCV concept: First and foremost – the Nash is a great looking car, while this other thing looks like an egg with a nose.

      But the Nash Metropolitan was designed with cheapness in mind – the doors are perfectly symmetrical, as are rear and front fenders, so that only half the stampings were required to manufacture it. Well, that was the idea, anyway, only the doors ended up actually symmetrical. Both are small and light (relatively speaking, in the case of the Metro) and under powered – cuts the cost and maximizes fuel economy all in one.

      Huh – I just got to reading the Wiki about the Metropolitan – I had no idea it was designed by Nash-Kelvinator with pinafarina influence, mechanicals by Austin, and body by Fischer, back before they were BMC.

      Conclusion: cool ride, Nate.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve heard about these and I’ve always found them interesting. It’s great to hear of someone still driving one! I kind of assumed they were all gone. Best of luck, I’m glad that you enjoy it!

      • 0 avatar

        Being as the Nash Metropolitan has a lock on cuteness , many were not scrapped back when they were worthless usedcars and parts hard to find so many more remain than you’d think , out of the production run of just under 100,000 units .

        It’s a great car indeed although *very* rust prone .

        Google So. Cal. TT Ride or Drive , this car is going this Sunday for two days of hard & fast Back Road , Canyon carving fun .


    • 0 avatar

      “Too bad people won’t accept they have to compromise when they’re not rich…”

      People really DON’T have to compromise on luxury, they just have to get a used luxury car for the price they can pay. Even Consumers Reports figured that out when they reviewed a bunch of under-$10,000 cars. They provided a list of bigger, better 3-5 year old cars available for the same price, and stated that was a better deal than buying a new stripper, assuming you did your homework (like Steven Lang).

  • avatar

    I loved this concept when it was first unveiled, and curse Daimler (if they were indeed involved in its death) for not even giving it a chance. That being said, like the Nano it does not account for the buyer’s ego, which is the same no matter where you go: they want something aspirational. That doesn’t scream “Sorry, this is the best I can do.”

    Cars as basic as Beetle, 2CV and Renault 4 simply won’t cut it in this day and age; not even in developing markets. An expensive bike is more aspirational than the cheapest car. Sure, they’d sell a few, but never again in the enormous numbers of yore.

  • avatar

    How many turns of that key on the side to fully wind up the spring?

  • avatar

    I like the Renault LeCar-esque wheels.

  • avatar

    I’d hate to be the crash-test dummy in this thing if someone t-boned me…

    NOBODY wants a car like this. It probably has no touch screen, mp3, USB or 12V sockets either, let alone a Radio Shack stereo.

    • 0 avatar

      I want a car like this – the numb aggressive styling of most american cars is tiring.

    • 0 avatar

      All of that is trivial to add, except the touchscreen [which is only near-trivial] … and touch screens in a car are, frankly, purest bullshit.

      Nothing ages faster than a built-in nav system; what you can sell as a “feature” today is a laughing stock that certainly doesn’t *add* any value, in five years.

      And non-nav functions mostly do much better without a touchscreen.

      (Climate? Audio? I want physical controls with tactile feedback that I can use *without having to look at them*.)

    • 0 avatar

      The CCV actually performed very well in *some* crash tests – front and rear at least.

      Side impacts were another story, but a lot of low cost cars come up short there. You have to accept certain tradeoffs for economy and simplicity, and it’s still a heck of a lot safer than crowding a bunch of people onto a motorbike.

  • avatar

    At $6,000, I would consider buying this. What I would really like to see is the same effort at a cheap pick-up. Call it $10,000. I would definitely buy that. Unless I didn’t like it.

    • 0 avatar

      At 6k, this thing would have been cheaper than the now silly-priced quads that people are purchasing (most of whom don’t have farms and don’t use them for herding livestock).

      Hmmmm…..I wonder what the profit margin is for the makers of those 10k+ quads, let alone the 30k+ ARGO 8×8 750 HDi.

  • avatar

    Ugly as sin, but at 50mpg for only $6k I’d buy it in a heartbeat. Oh well, guess I have to stick with used cars and ok gas mileage.

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      It’s all subjective; I find its appearance appealing, although as I’m hot-rodding a Pacer it’s clear my tastes in looks is definitely biased towards the WTF quadrant of the map. And in today’s market, $6K is the difference between the base and premium levels of a compact car; it’s not bad to get a whole car for that sort of money.

      • 0 avatar

        I like the look too, as a reimagined 2CV sort of car. I think it would have fit in well with Japan’s retro small car craze of twenty years back. It almost looks related to the Nissan S-Cargo.

        What does it say that the countries that developed their own cars were willing to spend decades driving Model-Ts, Beetles, 2CVs, Austin 7s and Morris Minors, while the late bloomers of industrialization only have markets for status symbols? Something is amiss.

  • avatar

    Better looking than anything chrysler is offering now (with 1 or 2 exceptions – maybe just 1) and with Fiat’s engines and modern material/manufacturing it could probably meet all its performance/price goals. I’d love to see it .

    The only problem chrysler would have is naming it – given their propensity for passive /aggressive monikers calling it the “revenger” might not be suitable.

  • avatar

    My understanding is a big reason cars like this aren’t built is because the US crash standards are just too draconian. You almost have to build a big, heavy car nowadays to get certified.

    I really don’t know how you can let someone ride a motorcycle, but not let them ride in a car like this.

    As long as consumers are aware a microcar isn’t as safe as a Suburban in a head on collision, I think we should allow these kinds of cars to be built. This is all many people need in a car, yet were pushing them into tanks.

  • avatar

    Look at it from the standpoint of a parent getting a first car for a teen. Generally, the only applicable market is the used market, but this could compete well against a $6000 used car.

    #1 – it’s uncool, so the kid would be compelled to work his a$$ off to either buy his own or do well in school
    #2 – it warrantied, so used car blues don’t apply
    #3 – slow and low top speed, great for learners (and insurance?)
    #4 – good gas mileage, good for me

    I’d probably have one or two in my driveway right now, rather than a pair of ten year mazda’s I’m working on non-stop

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    Through-colored plastic panels and a 2-pot air cooled engine? Woo, it’s a modern Mehari!

  • avatar

    Bolt on panels…. Fiero comes to mind.

  • avatar

    I could live with this but to echo someone above, I would prefer to have a pickup that was built like this. Living in the Houston area means it needs enough power to drive an AC. Not having one wouldn’t bother me much because my second cars normally don’t. I can tell you though that without an AC it won’t sell here.

    Something like this in the Aussie ute format would do everything I need even living in the country. With AC, I think this would have sold here.

  • avatar

    Wow, talk about ripping off the Nissan S-Cargo….

  • avatar

    The problem with the car is that it screams cheap car, a typical Detroit’s attitude about its lower priced model, they being more concerned about the possibility of losing sales of higher end model than make the lower priced car attractive. Toyota is making cheap cars in India (Etios) and soon in Indonesia (Toyota Agya, joint venture with Daihatsu with its Ayla), but they don’t make them especially ugly like the Chrysler, a guaranteed embarrassment for all who were forced to buy one.

  • avatar

    Chrysler really could have had something here. I believe the focus was on China, but the ultimate idea was to sell these all over the developing world – Africa, Russia/CIS, Latin America, etc.

    I think the idea was to sort of set up a bunch of “micro factories” in different areas. The processes and raw materials that went into building these cars were designed to be easily replicable in areas that had no pre-existing native auto industry so they could walk right in to a brand new market and set up shop quickly.

    People also tend to overlook the first-mover advantage Chrysler had in China and how it really was more or less squandered. In 1984, American Motors was the first Western automaker to re-enter China since 1949 with their Beijing Jeep joint venture that Chrysler inherited when they bought AMC in 1987. Unfortunately, they never really considered doing anything with it beyond local production of Jeep Cherokees. The passenger car lines were never part of the picture. Looking at the success of Buick, a classic American near-luxury brand, in China, its amazing to think Chrysler could have been there first if they did things differently in the 1990s.

  • avatar

    * China has changed a lot since the CCV was designed. In the China it was designed for it would likely be quite relevant. Even today out in the hinterlands of China it would at least be in the game. But as in the US the car market in China is driven by upwardly-mobiles, not earnest peasants.

    * The CCV was designed in response to an invitation by the Chinese government, along with other automakers, to become a government sponsored people’s car. A number of automakers did participate. Porsche designed a little 4-door sedan. Mercedes offered up a dumbed-down, decontented A-klasse.

    * Bryan Nesbitt (PT Cruiser, 2008 Malibu, etc) designed the CCV, although Chrysler exec Francois Castaing first made it very clear that he really, really liked the 2CV. (Castaing was originally a Renault guy, who landed at Chrysler via the AMC acquisition). Nesbitt was told that the budget was sufficient for EITHER a curved windscreen OR curved side glass. So he curved the side glass, and buried the flat windshield in curving pillars, so it’s less noticeable…

  • avatar

    I remember this concept from when it debuted (1996) and this is the first time I’ve ever read that Daimler was involved in its cancellation. It was designed specifically for the Chinese market – hence the name CCV, ‘China Concept Vehicle’ – and was already being reported as DOA in 1997 (i.e. before Daimler arrived on the scene) since the Chinese authorities were pretty unimpressed at the stripped-out, austere nature of the thing.

  • avatar

    I’d drive one of those, if it was cheap enough.

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