Chrysler Flip-Flops; Kills PT Cruiser and Wants to Sell Tooling

January 15, 2009

Only yesterday Chrysler president Tom LaSorda insisted that rumors of the sale of tooling for an existing model were "absolutely false." Well, folks, now they're looking to sell off assets used to produce the aging PT Cruiser, according to Bloomberg: "production 'ends this summer,' LaSorda said...in a telephone interview. 'Would we sell those assets? Yes. Do we have any offers to sell those assets? No. Would we be pursuing a buyer? Yes.'”

If you want to get into the semantics of it all, I suppose technically the PT Cruiser is no longer an existing model now that its fate is sealed. But more than likely LaSorda is pedaling furiously, trying to keep a game face and exude positive spin regarding Chrysler's future while concomitantly abandoning unprofitable, long-in-the tooth models and trying to peddle off their guts to stay afloat. Not an enviable position in the slightest.

The market spoke loudly last year regarding the PT Cruiser: sales nosedived 49 percent to end up at 50,910 units total for 2008. Still, 50,000 units is a lot of cars. I really liked the funky-fresh PT Cruiser back when it came out in 2000. I drove a PT Cruiser 5-speed long-term press car back in the summer of 2001 and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It had a Honda-like solidity and exuded joy in its simplicity. Yeah, its 2.4-liter had to be revved within an inch of its life to produce inspiring forward motion, but importantly, the little touches were all there: the stick shift operated with slick precision, the clutch pedal engaged just right, the handling was nimble and entertaining, and the interior was full of useful touches and smile-inducing stylistic elements like the body-color inserts in the dash. The hatchback body was extremely convenient, and the London taxicab styling made this little car stand out in a crowd with a happy-go-lucky presence that encouraged drivers not to take life too seriously. Later turbocharged models addressed the lack of oomph, but hurt mpg.

Of course, Chrysler got in on the SUV game, investing in Durango/Aspen remodels and hybrid editions when gas was cheap and Americans just couldn't get enough of the big bruisers. Oops. Just like the American Ford Focus and Saturn's SL-series, the poor PT Cruiser was left on its original platform for 9 years to carry the funky hatchback small-car banner for Chrysler as competitors like the Toyota Matrix, Honda Element, and Kia Rondo moved in for the kill with more pep, more poise, and fresh new styling. A mid-cycle refresh killed the PT Cruiser's interior to my eye, adding awkward angles where enticing curves once resided. I know, hindsight is 20/20 and this is all easy to say...but whether it could have been prevented or not, it's sad to see the PT Cruiser fall on its face, a victim of parental neglect. Or perhaps a victim of the American penchant for the gargantuan SUV?

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