What Is A Sedan?
Have you ever heard of the term "three-box design"? If you don’t consider yourself an automotive aficionado, you likely haven’t. Yet this term precisely describes the architecture of a car with a physically separated front end (engine bay), middle section (passenger compartment), and rear end (trunk). Why is this relevant? Because this is the automotive design concept associated with the word "sedan." However, as a result of ever-changing circumstances, the word "sedan" and its association with vehicles has changed a bit over the years.
Looking throughout history, the word “sedan” can be found as far back as the 17th century, used in reference to an enclosed chair carried on poles. This unique mode of transportation was exclusive to the privileged ones who had the opportunity to enjoy luxurious treatment in France. This chair, carried on poles by two operators, was called the “sedan-chair.”
In an attempt to make an analogy with our three-box explanation, the carrier at the front would be the “first box.” We could consider the chair enclosed in a cabin (the “second box”), while the third box could be the carrier behind the contraption.
While this is one of the first noted uses of the term “sedan,” the word did pop up a few times in the 19th century, as well. Some literature during this period described certain types of horse-drawn carriages as “sedans.” But the first mention of the word within the informal automotive vernacular took place back in 1899 during the introduction of the Renault Voiturette Type B. It was essentially an enclosed cabin with a chair and four-wheels instead of human carriers at the front and the back. Though metaphorically comparable, it still paled in comparison to what we associate with the characterization of the modern sedan.