by Jim Bennett
What a difference a year and a half makes. From show concept car, in January, 1999 to hot, in-demand, production four door hot rod sedan that promises to create an entirely new affordable, flexible and profitable market segment. In the slice and dice niche market segmentation of the world's automotive economies this seemingly "retro rod" has a lot of surprises and further developments in which to delight us.
Contemporary automotive design is beginning a sea of change in passenger car design. From the traditional 3 box design of the last 30 to 40 years, to the 1 and 2 box design's of today and tomorrow, the PT Cruiser maybe the first segment buster of the 21st century. This may present problems and opportunities as vehicles get taller with shorter overhangs. Just look at the SUV stability problems of recent years. Perhaps technology along with conscientious and critical refinements may offer solutions that will make up for the higher centers of gravity and shorter wheelbases. Technology based stability solutions are being developed now.
The PT idea really started in 1995 by looking at global trends. This includes global urbanization, internationalization, affordability, congestion, utility, flexibility, style and nostalgia. Difficulties in selling microvans and hatchbacks in the past made for a vexing problem since the product didn't look cool or was not appealing to the markets they were targeting. Enter the American street rod image cast over contemporary automotive lower-cost platform architecture.
Chrysler's Neon subcompact platform was modified and a unique rear suspension was created to enhance stability and minimize the intrusion of chassis components and the passenger/cargo area. This brilliant design is intelligent, efficient, flexible and offers a wide range of possibilities for refinement and future designs. Manufacturing cost efficiencies by sharing components such as minivan engines, transmissions, suspension components and etc. seem obvious.
Go to any hot rod car show and you'll see a distinctive expression of personal, fresh, unique, creative, American ingenuity coupled with a restless, rebellious can do spirit. The PT Cruiser captures many of these elements in a friendly and practical way. The return of real fenders, flowing curved roof line, protruding door handles, tapered hood, prominent grill, angular headlights and aggressive panel truck rear end and side glass provide a nostalgic but contemporarily strong design attitude to this vehicle.
Love or hate the design, you should agree it's different and perhaps distinctive. As proven in previous successful Chrysler designs, they want to appeal to distinctive market niches and develop sufficient volume to establish a segment and invent new ones.
To date, this is been a very successful and creative formula. If quality and reliability areas can be improved to keep pace with the world class design efforts Chrysler will have a winner.
Welcome to the fun zone of spaciousness, flexibility, high utility, ease of use and good visibility. From the legible white faced oval gauges in the instrument panel to the swing out side doors and upward lifting rear door you have over 25 different seating configurations according to Chrysler. Even though the PT is a five inches shorter than the Neon subcompact it has the interior volume of Chrysler's full-size cars. That's amazing and clever.
Easy to remove seating with built-in wheels, to easily move around once removed, is another example of thoughtful interior design. The symmetrical dashboard design and center vehicle console can be used for both North American and export vehicles. An oval and round interior design theme is carefully implemented throughout the interior to provide a warm and inviting feel. A new steering wheel with small air bag was properly added to help convey the vehicles uniqueness.
Dated: May 10, 2000