What a run it’s been. After nearly ten years of production, today, July 9, marked the end of the line for the Chrysler PT Cruiser. To properly remember the PT, we take a look back at the history and highlights of the vehicle with the iconic shape that sold over 1 million units around the globe.
From concept to reality
If the iconic shape looks familiar, it’s not only because the PT Cruiser echoes the design of 1930s wagons. The PT Cruiser was previewed as the sleek, two-door Pronto Cruizer at the 1998 Geneva Auto Show, penned by designer Bryan Nesbitt. Based on the Dodge/Plymouth Neon, it was originally destined to become a Plymouth, and borrowed heavily from its parts bin. But Plymouth’s fate was sealed, and the concept made its way to reality as the 2001 Chrysler PT Cruiser.
Inexpensive retro style for the masses
The PT (which stood for “personal transport”) debuted to swooning audiences after its auto show debut. Like the Ford Thunderbird, Volkswagen Beetle, and MINI Cooper heritage revivals of the same era, Chrysler’s design updated classic style for a wide audience. Initially, Chrysler installed the Dodge Stratus/Plymouth Breeze’s 2.4-liter I-4 engine that produced 150 horsepower and 167 pound-feet of torque. Later, it was joined by a turbocharged version of the same engine that produced over 200 horsepower in the GT, and a diesel was offered in international markets. PT Cruiser production was centered in Toluca, Mexico, though some PTs were briefly built in Austria for export markets.
Long shelf life, many special editions
The standard PT and turbocharged GT were joined by a two-door convertible variant and a woody package, reminiscent of a bygone era, to keep the model fresh. Aside from cosmetic updates, the PT Cruiser received few updates throughout its production cycle, but Chrysler offered over a dozen special edition Cruisers (see below for some highlights). Sales peaked a year after it went into production, with 144,717 U.S. deliveries in 2001, but began to slide after the 2006 model year. In 2009, Chrysler only moved 17,941 PT Cruisers, a marked 87 percent decline from its top year. What went wrong?
Complacency, competition, and Cerberus
Although Chrysler enjoyed healthy sales for several years, the PT faced newer market competition, including the Nesbitt-designed Chevrolet HHR. And after a decade-long production cycle with virtually no changes to the original model, Chrysler finally pulled the plug on the PT Cruiser in January 2009. Production was speculated to end a year ago, following Chrysler’s purchase by Cerberus Capital Management in 2007, but production in Mexico continued until today, when the last PT Cruiser rolled off the line.
The Toluca plant will be retooled to produce variants of the Fiat 500, which we’ll see in the U.S. shortly thereafter, after over 1 million PT Cruisers were produced. As for the PT Cruiser name, last week you told us there’s still hope for the nameplate. We’re not sure what the future holds, but after spending a year getting to know the PT, we grew to be fans.
Special edition highlight: 2004 Dream Cruiser Series 3
Paying homage to the storied Woodward Dream Cruise held each summer, this PT came with the turbocharged 2.4-liter four-cylinder standard. The exterior featured a two-tone deep blue and silver paint job, as well as five-spoke chrome wheels.
Special edition lowlight: 2008 Sunset Boulevard Edition Street Cruiser
At its best, this special edition was the PT Cruiser you’d want to show off on cruise nights in California. At its worst, it was a maroon paint job and some additional chrome.
Read more: Four Seasons Test