PHOENIX -- Is retro styling in or out?
That's the question the Chrysler group is asking as design work begins on the next-generation PT Cruiser.
"Clearly, we have to understand the lifecycle of certain statements and not overdo them," said Chrysler group CEO Dieter Zetsche at a press event in Paradise Valley, Ariz.
While PT Cruiser sales in the United States have sharply declined since 2001, Zetsche said the vehicle's worldwide sales have been successful. Last year, about 150,000 vehicles were sold worldwide with the United States accounting for 107,759 units.
"We don't have too many nameplates in the Chrysler group with 150,000 sales," he said. "It is a great success, and we clearly will stay with the PT Cruiser."
The current PT Cruiser draws on styling themes from late 1930s Fords, and many of its buyers are baby boomers, or older, who can relate to that theme. But Chrysler executives are wondering, as these buyers grow older, will they or anyone have the same interest in buying a highly retro-styled car?
Zetsche said among the questions being asked are: What defines the PT? What does the successor have to represent to be a legitimate successor? Does it mean it has to have the same retro design and same cues, or can it be more contemporary and represent the same kind of utility with some (PT) design cues? "We are still in the phase of figuring that out," he said.
If the decision is made to produce a more contemporary-looking vehicle, it would have to have some specific PT Cruiser design cues such as the grille to be a legitimate successor, Zetsche said.
"We want to make sure that people say, 'OK, that's the new PT Cruiser,' even if that potentially means relatively little resemblance to the current one," he said.
Although Zetsche did not reveal the timing, the redesign is expected around the 2008 model year.
Until the redesign arrives, the automaker will create buzz by adding a four-passenger convertible in March.
About a year or so later, the PT Cruiser line will receive a face-lift. The front-end styling will be new and feature a flatter nose, compared with today's rounded front grille. The headlights will be redesigned, with round, chrome-ringed lights behind a clear plastic cover.
Additional styling changes include flared edges around the front and rear fenders, and a rear bumper with a smoother shape. It no longer will have the recessed, sculptured shapes around the backup lights and license plate.