Just in time for the Woodward Dream Cruise, Chrysler has rolled out the first two long-awaited spin-offs of the wildly popular PT Cruiser. But don’t think the Dream Cruiser and Woodie Cruiser are the last in the line. An ever-expanding procession of PT Cruiser variants will be heading to showrooms over the next few years.
With Chrysler finally adding enough capacity to meet the current demand, the automaker has to ensure that demand for the off-beat Cruiser doesn’t slip in the years to come.
The challenge is “to keep PT Cruiser as fresh and exciting as it was on Day One,” explains Tom Marinelli, Vice President, Chrysler/Jeep Global Brand Center.
Considering the long waiting lists—some customers waiting as long as nine months to take delivery—that might not seem very difficult. But historically, even the hottest products eventually lose steam. Volkswagen, for one, has tried to keep the momentum building for its New Beetle by introducing new niche models roughly once a year.
The two new versions of the PT Cruiser are visually striking but relatively modest in reach.
The Dream Cruiser is a fully-loaded PT done up in Inca Gold, the same rich hue used on the Pronto Cruiser, the concept vehicle that took its bow at the 1998 Geneva Motor Show. The Dream Cruiser features color-keyed bumpers, unique 16-inch chrome wheels with gold accents, and a special, numbered plaque mounted on the instrument panel. Only 7500 will be built, starting next January, at a price of around $24,000. (That’s about $1000 more than a fully loaded regular edition PT Cruiser.)
The second spin-off isn’t really a new model. Customers can order the Woodie’s wood appliqué on any PT Cruiser for an additional $895. The factory-installed option will become available in November. And there’ll be no limit on availability.
While Chrysler may be thinking about the Cruiser’s potential longevity, there’s no arguing its current success. Since introduction, customers have snapped up “well over 200,000,” notes Marinelli. Chrysler has been scrambling to find more capacity, and is investing a sizable sum to increase production at the original Cruiser plant in Toluca, Mexico. It’s also boosted capacity at the newer line in Graz, Austria. Together, they’ll have the ability to roll out as many as 310,000 PT Cruisers a year by 2003.
That’s good news for wannabe Cruiser buyers; as capacity increases, waiting lines are shrinking. While it’s still rare to find an unsold PT Cruiser on a dealer’s lot, it’s not unusual for orders to be fulfilled within 30 to 60 days now. And it’s becoming easier for potential buyers to order base, rather than fully loaded models. The Cruiser starts at roughly $17,000, though load up on all the options, and you’ll quickly nip the $23,000 mark.
Will there be enough long-term demand to support the capacity Chrysler is putting into place The automaker isn’t taking any chances. “We need to do more variants to keep interest building,” concedes David McKinnon, Chrysler’s small car styling chief.
At least some of the future variations will be notably more substantial than the Woodie and Dream Cruisers. Several possible examples have already been displayed, including a panel truck Cruiser and the slick Cruiser convertible concept car unveiled at the New York Auto Show last April. Inside sources suggest the surprisingly roomy ragtop will be the first alternate body style to hit market, most likely by mid to late in the 2003 model-year.
For the record, McKinnon sidesteps the question, though he doesn’t deny that a two-door body is under development, and once it’s tooled up, “the range of options is infinite.”