Chrysler PT Cruiser Production Set to End July 6
By Chris Haak
The Chrysler PT Cruiser, perhaps the best-selling and most-recognizable retro-styled car sold in the US market over its eleven-year production run, is about to end its production once and for all. On July 6, the last new PT Cruiser will roll off the assembly line at Chrysler’s Toluca, Mexico assembly plant.
That the PT Cruiser has endured for as long as it has – selling some 1.2 million copies in the process, or an average of over 100,000 units annually over its production run – is a testament to the car’s fundamentally clean, quirky, fun-loving design. Over the past decade, the PT Cruiser has changed only slightly. All of the hard points are still the same as the original 2000 model, but the front bumper and grille were revised slightly for the 2006 model year, and the interior was changed for 2006 also.
I’d argue that the original interior was a more successful pairing with the retro design than what the 2006 update did to the car. Sure, the original looked like it shared a few too many parts with the Neon, but the later models look like they share too many parts with the Caliber. The revised center stack takes on Chrysler’s obsession with rectangular interior shapes from the mid-2000s, and that just doesn’t go well with the retro-styled, flowing bodywork.
In its first two years of production, Chrysler just couldn’t make enough PT Cruisers to satisfy demand. The company expected to sell 25,000 of them, period, yet sold 106,829 cars in 2000, the car’s first model year. In the car’s second model year, it did even better, selling 160,832. Sales continued to top six figures for the next several model years. In 2008, sales finally fell below 100,000 as then-Chrysler LLC owner Cerberus axed the PT Cruiser Convertible model. Cerberus later decided to kill the PT Cruiser outright, but Chrysler’s mid-2009 bankruptcy caused Cerberus to exit the car business, and Chrysler Group LLC’s new management decided to let the PT soldier on for a while longer. After all, they were selling, the tooling was paid for, and they filled a gap in the lineup.
Just as the styling was polarizing – people love it or hate it – so was the ownership experience. Horror stories of PT Cruiser mechanical problems litter Internet forums everywhere, but there are also quite a few stories of long-lasting, bulletproof reliability coming from the PT. The car not only helped launch the neo-retro trend of the past decade, following the Volkswagen New Beetle by a year, but preceding the Fiat Nuova 500, Ford Mustang, Dodge Challenger, Chevrolet SSR, and Chevrolet HHR. Current GM designer (and short-term Cadillac general manager) Brian Nesbitt designed the PT Cruiser when he worked for Chrysler, and later jumped ship to GM, where he designed the remarkably similar HHR.
Perhaps proof of how the PT Cruiser has fallen from grace over the past few years: at a wedding in Michigan last fall, one of my friends received a PT Cruiser rental car, and immediately derided it as a “PT Loser.” I didn’t join in the name calling, but I have to admit that I was thrilled to get a Subaru Impreza instead of a PT when my number came up at the rental counter.
The legacy of the PT Cruiser will live on in a way; its plant is to be retooled to build the new Fiat 500 in Mexico for North American consumption. So the plant that built one of the first (and longest-lasting) retro-styled automobiles will be building one of the latest and most trnedy interpretations of the same theme. The 500 has several more years to go before it reaches the PT Cruiser’s longevity, though.