Conventional wisdom has it that once a niche vehicle's initial surge of popularity has faded, it's time to put it on the shelf and go with something else.
But the Chrysler group isn't quite ready to bow to conventional wisdom. Instead, the automaker is trying to recast the image of its PT Cruiser for 2006.
It will take a little doing.
The curvy, retro-looking PT Cruiser drew a lot of oohs and ahhs when it was launched in 2000.
Along the way, Chrysler added a convertible model and dress-up packages that kept the PT Cruiser going with a freshened niche image that has reduced the average age of the buyer by a full decade.
Built on the Neon platform, the PT Cruiser has nonetheless been classified as a truck for fuel economy purposes.
But since the PT Cruiser's profile rolled on to the scene, other automakers have used boxy and non-traditional shapes for some of their small cars. Toyota's Scion line is doing well with young buyers. Honda's Element has a following and Nissan likely will soon bring a version of its cube-like Cube to the United States.
So now Chrysler is trying something different. It has tweaked the PT Cruiser's design and options and will market it as a small car that competes with mainstream small cars like the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic and Chevrolet Cobalt.
Perhaps coincidentally, also coming this fall is the 2006 Chevy HHR, which was designed by Bryan Nesbitt, who also designed the PT Cruiser before leaving Chrysler for General Motors. Because it, too, has a retro look, boxy functionality and was designed by Nesbitt, some have dubbed it the "Me Too Cruiser."
That adds up to a lot of action in stylized small cars.
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