DETROIT -- The Chrysler group is debating whether there will be a next-generation PT Cruiser, and, if so, how strong the retro styling will be.
Part of the debate is fueled by the 2006 Chevrolet HHR, a tall, retro-looking wagon that is a little larger than the PT Cruiser. The HHR, which is influenced by the design of the 1949 Suburban, may woo the same group of buyers as the PT Cruiser. The HHR goes on sale next year.
Chrysler group design chief Trevor Creed says the PT Cruiser's future is "much hotly debated."
Asked whether the PT Cruiser is a one-of-a-kind vehicle and whether the market is strong enough to support two retro-styled vehicles, Creed said, "There is much discussion on that right now, and I don't know the answer."
Creed says a restyling is planned for the PT Cruiser, but beyond that "we are not sure what our next move will be." Industry sources expect the restyling to occur for the 2006 model year.
Sales of vehicles with strong retro themes have peaked and fallen. The Ford Thunderbird is expected to be discontinued after the 2007 model year, and the Volkswagen New Beetle may not be redesigned. It may be dropped when sales fall below the level of profitability, a VW source said this year. That is one of the options for the PT Cruiser, Creed says.
Until this year when a convertible was added to the line, PT Cruiser's U.S. sales had been slipping since their peak in 2001, when 144,717 units were sold. Last year, 107,759 units were sold. But sales for the first 10 months of this year were 97,767, up 8.1 percent.
Creed says the automaker had considered adding a two-door wagon to the PT Cruiser line, but that model performed poorly in clinics.
The HHR will be unveiled in January at the Los Angeles auto show. It shares a front-wheel-drive vehicle architecture with the Chevrolet Cobalt and is a little wider and longer than the PT Cruiser.
While he disagreed with their predictions, Creed says many Chrysler group executives had expected the PT Cruiser's late 1930s styling to attract younger buyers. But that didn't happen.
The Chrysler group could try to attract younger buyers with contemporary styling reminiscent of the current vehicle, Creed says. But if the automaker goes that direction, he wonders: "Will you attract young people to it, or will you still not attract young people - and now you have alienated the generation that really did like the PT Cruiser? I don't know."
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