Chrysler Voyager III concept 1989
As the 1980s gave way to the 1990s, automakers once again saw their futures shaped by concerns over pollution, traffic density, fuel prices and (to a lesser degree than today) climate change. In the days before the rebirth of the electric car or the emergence of hybrid vehicles, Chrysler took an innovative approach to designing the future of family transportation, unveiling a detachable-cab minivan named the Chrysler Voyager III at the 1990 North American Auto Show in Detroit.
Chrysler Voyager III concept 1989 sections
Whether for real or perceived needs, Americans have long embraced the purchase of larger-than-required vehicles. While a minivan may be necessary to haul the average 2.4 children, family dog and supplies on vacation, it’s overkill for the solo commuter. In addition to consuming too much fuel (and in return, emitting too many pollutants), a seven-plus passenger van takes up far more parking room in an urban environment. The alternative of downsizing the daily driver seems far more unpalatable, however, since the trappings of modern family life seem to require more room than a fuel and space-efficient commuter car offers.
The beauty of Chrysler’s Voyager III concept is that it delivered the best of both worlds. As a daily driver, the front cab detached to offer seating for three (individual bucket seats, arranged in a single row), in a car sized to rival the Geo Metro. Power for this module came from a three-cylinder engine, powered by propane and driving the front wheels, and while Chrysler was hesitant to publish specifics, the implication was that the cab would deliver sufficient power, while returning exceptional fuel economy and reduced pollution.
When more room was needed, the cab could be linked to the rear module to provide seating for eight additional passengers, or 11 passengers total. To provide the additional power necessary for hauling the added weight, the rear section itself could be powered by an independent 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine, which (presumably) was also fueled via propane. The two engines were linked electronically, ensuring smooth and safe power delivery; for maximum fuel economy, use of the rear engine was optional even when the segments were joined. Combined, the output of the two engines was said to be roughly the equivalent of a small V-8, and as an added bonus, the two-engine configuration gave the Voyager all-wheel drive traction.
To prevent steering problems (and maximize fuel economy), the rear wheels of the cab section retracted beneath the Chrysler Voyager III when the segments were joined, and aerodynamic skirts covered the open wheel wells. The wheelbase of the full Voyager III measured 122 inches, and the conjoined concept was less than 199 inches from tip to tail, or roughly the same size as an extended wheelbase minivan of the day.
Bob Lutz, then president of Chrysler, said of the Voyager III, “You see people going into downtown areas in full-size vans wasting fuel and clogging up space. It seemed to us like a neat idea to to be able to leave two-thirds of your vehicle at home.” The idea may have been neat, but making such a complex vehicle affordable to family car buyers would have been a daunting task. Officially, Chrysler’s party line on the Voyager III concept was that such a vehicle was at least a decade away from practical implementation. Unofficially, even Lutz admitted that, in the form displayed at the 1990 North American Auto Show, “Its chances are not great… because it is very expensive.”
After making the rounds on the 1990 show circuit, the 1989 Chrysler Voyager III disappeared from sight, an idea whose time had not yet come. The same problems that plagued automakers in 1989 (fuel economy and climate change) are once again front and center, but that doesn’t mean we should expect to see such an ambitious concept vehicle from a major automaker in the near future (and no, the Rinspeed Dock+Go concept doesn’t count). As in 1990, the same production challenges (namely, cost) remain, although the complications of a two-engine setup are likely to be easier to resolve.
If costs can be contained, could a hybrid multistage vehicle like the Chrysler Voyager III be practical in the not too distant future? Stranger things have happened in the automotive world.