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Thursday, January 15, 2009

RIP PT, Chrylser Kills the Cruiser

PT Cruiser Chrysler, as is well documented, has long made its name on home-run product. When things are darkest, the company invariably comes out with a winner, one that sets the automotive world's hair on fire and brings in huge sales. The Chrysler 300, the Dodge Viper and the K Car are just a few that come to mind.

Another is was, the PT Cruiser. With a totally new design that in many ways ushered in the retro-styling craze in automotive design this decade, it took the country by storm, helping a nation forget the departure of Plymouth. Sales were brisk, dealers couldn't get enough of them, and the funky little car/truck won the 2001 North American Car of the Year award. Across the nation, people scratched their heads: What does PT stand for? (Answer: Personal Transportation. Yeah, kinda lame.)

Today, Chrysler went and put a bullet in the PT's head.

According to news reports , Chrysler will cease production this summer...

and hopes to sell the tooling used to create the vehicle, if possible. The news comes just over a year after Chrysler produced the last convertible version of the PT Cruiser.

Consistent with Chrysler's current product cadence, the PT Cruiser never got a redesign, despite a lifetime stretching nine model years. That's almost double the life of most designs on the market today. Similarly, Chrysler's 300, itself a monster hit when rolled out for the 2005 model year, is already on year five, with no signs of a reworking yet.

The news wasn't entirely unexpected -- Chrysler is in crisis, and even after receiving $4 billion in government loans, shows every sign of needing more cash. PT Cruiser sales, meanwhile, declined by 49% last year, to just 50,910 units, and that was off 2007 numbers that were themselves down 28% from the previous year. In 2001, the PT's best year, 144,717 of the vehicles sold.

Without that redesign, a big chunk of PT sales were going to fleets of late, and the plant in Toluca, Mexico, that builds them is likely to be the production site of a new small vehicle that Chrysler hopes to make.

That said, it's a sad day for a quirky vehicle, which looks mostly like a car but is classified by the federal government as a light truck (which has helped Chrysler comply with fuel economy regulations). Its dedicated followers have created legions of regional, national and international fan clubs who tuned them, chromed them and babied them to death. Heck, Tom Hanks even owed a PT Cruiser at one time, inspiring Robin Williams and Cher to follow suit.

Alas, poor PT. We knew thee well.

--Ken Bensinger