GRAZ, Austria - DaimlerChrysler is considering producing the Chrysler PT Cruiser in Europe. The retro-styled model could be built at the Eurostar plant in Graz, Austria, where Chrysler Voyager minivans have been made since 1991.
Graz could start making the PT Cruiser within 18 months, according to DaimlerChrysler sources. It would be sold in European markets.
Preparatory studies for production at Graz are already under way, although there has been no final approval. Marketing studies are being carried out in several European countries to evaluate potential demand.
DaimlerChrysler unveiled the PT Cruiser in January at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The car is based on the Neon platform and is scheduled for launch in Europe in summer of 2000. Initial supplies will come from DaimlerChrysler's plant in Toluca, Mexico.
DaimlerChrysler is giving top priority to its European marketing studies. 'If demand permits, we would like to supply local markets with PT Cruisers from Graz shortly after launch,' said a company source. 'We need to forecast European demand as precisely as possible. Then we can assess whether an investment in European production would make sense.'
Indications are that PT Cruiser production at Graz is highly likely.
'We were very surprised - and delighted - at the way potential customers reacted to the car,' said a DaimlerChrysler manager. 'We have carried out four car clinics in Europe, and the results indicate that the PT Cruiser appeals to the emotions of Europeans as well as Americans.'
The clinics also showed that the PT Cruiser's interior trim and finish do not quite meet the expectations of European customers.
'European production would allow us to tune the interior to a quality level that satisfies our local customers,' the manager said.
The Eurostar plant has a total capacity of 100,000 units per year. 'At the moment, just over 50 percent of capacity is used,' said Alfred Koch, board member and chief executive of Steyr-Daimler-Puch Fahrzeugtechnik AG. Eurostar is a 50-50 joint venture between DaimlerChrysler and Steyr. The plant, which employs 1,700 people, built 53,249 Voyagers in 1998. Production of 55,000 Voyagers is planned this year.
Sources at Eurostar and at Magna International, which bought more than 90 percent of Steyr last year, say the plant is likely to be fully owned by DaimlerChrysler in the future.
The former Chrysler Corp. took an option to purchase Steyr's 50 percent share when the Eurostar joint venture was formed.
'No details are worked out yet,' a Steyr manager said. 'But there is a mutual understanding that DaimlerChrysler will take over the whole site eventually.'