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Amid Slumping Popularity, Chrysler Adds New Features to PT Cruiser Car - 2003-05-14


When a new automobile becomes a sales hit, it starts a predictable cycle. The car will stay hot for perhaps two years before the public begins to drift away toward a newer model. At that point, the manufacturer "refreshes" the vehicle, adding something to revive interest, maybe a convertible version or more horsepower.

When first we visited the P.T. Cruiser in mid-2000, the retro-styled blend of car and mini-van was at the height of popularity. But, inevitably, the Cruiser cooled off.

The single loudest criticism of the versatile vehicle was that it lacked performance. Chrysler has now addressed that perceived shortcoming. Susan Graham, product planning executive on the P.T. Cruiser, said a turbocharger pumped up the power.

"It certainly was a big boost. It's [now] 215 horsepower, 245 pound-feet of torque and it's a significant improvement for those enthusiasts," she said.

Chrysler also added a firmer suspension, anti-lock brakes, traction control and larger wheels and tires, as well as some appearance improvements. We asked the executive editor of AutoWeek magazine, Kevin Wilson, if the added power fixed the problem.

"Yeah, mostly it has. The car's got enough acceleration power in it for freeway passing, and that sort of thing. If there's criticism still to be leveled, until the turbo spins faster, it doesn't come off a stoplight quite as hard as you might like, if you've got a full load in there," Mr. Wilson said.

With Automotive News reporting a 17 percent decline in Cruiser sales from year-ago levels, even with the turbo, we asked AutoWeek's Kevin Wilson if the car is now fading.

"There's enough of them out there that people don't notice them quite the way they did at first. But they're still a different styling statement than what's next-door," he said.

In a published report, a Chrysler executive mused that the P.T. Cruiser turbo might be too pricey for young consumers. A loaded Cruiser costs about $25,000. AutoWeek had a long-term vehicle for a year's testing. Kevin Wilson said, "It was a pretty solid, reliable piece. It was a nice car to drive around. And, if you compare it to other vehicles that will do the same job of carrying people and stuff, $25,000 is still looking like a bargain."

So, how about another "refresher" for the P.T. Cruiser? "Glad you asked," said Chrysler's Susan Graham. "We are going to be launching our convertible in January of '04. Hopefully, there's some anticipation building up, because we're very excited about the product."

In the meantime, according to Automotive News, Chrysler will bring out a less expensive version of the turbo in August to add another incentive for increased sales.

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