DETROIT -- Even before General Motors unveils its new Chevrolet HHR SUV this week, its resemblance to Chrysler's PT Cruiser has already spurred criticism.
The bulging fenders, rounded edges and upright stance of both of the four-door vehicles evoke classic American cars from the 1930s and 1940s, distinguishing them from almost everything else on the road.
GM will reveal the HHR, which stands for "heritage high roof," at the Los Angeles auto show on Wednesday, Jan. 5. But GM has already released sketches of the vehicle. Several have been photographed during testing, giving automotive analysts and enthusiasts a good look at the compact SUV.
"Basically, no originality," summed up Eric Noble, president of Carlab, a Santa Ana, Calif., automotive consulting firm. "Overweight, underpowered and me-too styling," he added.
Many note that GM designer Bryan Nesbitt, who lent a hand on the HHR, was the lead designer on the PT Cruiser when he worked at Chrysler.
The retro-looking HHR goes on sale the second half of this year, five years after the PT Cruiser arrived at dealerships. The PT Cruiser was a surprising success, and U.S. sales hit a high of 144,717 in 2001, but have cooled, even with the addition of a convertible version.
"I've seen the spy photos. None of us were thrilled with the design," said Catherine Madden, an analyst with Global Insight, a Lexington, Mass., forecasting firm. "It definitely had some styling cues from the PT Cruiser."
GM Vice Chairman Robert Lutz said that the HHR is rooted firmly in Chevrolet history and recalls the 1949 Chevrolet Suburban.
"One of the things that people say is, 'Oh, this is your version of the PT Cruiser.' No, it's not," Lutz told reporters at a preview of the vehicle last month. "If you take a side view of a '49 Suburban and take a side view of this, they are very close to being identical."
The HHR will be priced to appeal to young buyers, and its seats will fold flat, offering more functionality, GM officials said. At 174.5 inches in length, the HHR is nearly 6 inches longer than the PT Cruiser, giving it more cargo room.
GM expects to sell 80,000 to 100,000 HHRs a year, Lutz said. Some will be shipped to Europe, where GM is expanding its Chevrolet brand and the euro currency rate favors imports.
But analysts are skeptical that GM will achieve those sales levels.
"We think GM is late with this vehicle," said Joseph Barker, manager of North American sales analysis with CSM Worldwide. "If they were there say three years ago with this vehicle, our outlook would be more optimistic." CSM has a U.S. sales forecast of 60,000 to 70,000 of the HHRs.
The HHR is Chevrolet's second attempt at a retro-looking vehicle. The SSR, a two-seat, low-slung pickup that also looks similar to the '49 Suburban, has sold poorly since it arrived in late 2003.