Dynamist Blog

Go With What You Know

The Chrysler PT Cruiser is the classic example of what Mickey Kaus called a cartoon car: "It's a costume, not a car--a prop for people whose lives are so futureless and featureless they'd dress up in '50s clothing and go to 'sock hops.' Costumes are fun for a few hours, but most days aren't Halloween." I'm not nuts about the look either, but it's unique and gives a certain segment of car buyers a reason to pick this car, making the PT Cruiser is a success in the marketplace. Now Chrysler is thinking about dumping the retro look. That, warns Forbes car guy Jerry Flint, would be a very bad idea:

So how can Chrysler screw it up? At last report, the company is trying to decide whether to add a V-6 in the next re-do. The current PT is a four-cylinder. Adding a V-6 would make it bigger and heavier, more expensive and thirstier for gasoline. That does not seem like the right thing to do today.

Such a move would be bad enough, but here's worse news (and I am quoting Automotive News, which usually gets its facts straight): "Another issue is styling. Retro and cutesy are out of fashion. Expect the next-generation PT Cruiser to be more of a straight-up Toyota RAV4 fighter with the retro elements played down."

The word is that Chrysler may even be thinking about changing the name on the new model, which is due in three or four years.

If all this is true, we are talking about wrecking the most original and successful vehicle seen in Detroit in years. It is no secret that designers hate retro. They think that borrowing from the past is an insult to their sensitive talents. Cute is also a problem, because when companies get successful, they believe they are too serious and too important to have cars that look "cute."...

What distinguishes the PT from all the other small wagons--Mazda Motor's Mazda5, Honda's CRV, GM's Pontiac Vibe, Toyota Motor's Matrix or the Ford Focus--is that look. Take it away, and the PT Cruiser is just another small wagon. The truth is, Toyota and Honda still build them better than Chrysler. Eliminate the great look, and the PT--or whatever Chrysler will call it--becomes a second-rater.

He ends with a good tale of how the funny-looking car got designed in the first place.

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