The wonderful thing about the automobile business is that every so often one comes through, and you know it's great. The PT Cruiser is one of the greats.
It wasn't easy, you know. Not the PT. Imagine the conflicts among the highest levels at Chrysler Corp. Bob Lutz, who is always so sure of himself and ready for a fight; Tom Gale, the best designer of tomorrow's cars, not yesterday's.
Months go by without a design. They quarrel about retro. Bob Eaton's not much help; he's got other things on his mind. I imagine that Lutz thinks Gale is stalling and orders him to do a retro design. I imagine that Tom looks Bob straight in the eye and tells him that if it were so easy, he'd have already done it. What an imagination I have.
Then suddenly, they've got it. Francois Castaing and Chris Theodore (two more of the immortals) massage the insides, turning the Frog of a Neon into the PT Prince. And whatever their differences, they did it, together, the Last Great Car of Team Chrysler (the Toledo Jeep will be the Last Great Truck). The new gang may create other fine vehicles, but these are the last works of those immortal Musketeers.
This was a team that never gave up, and never surrendered. Three cheers for every one.
I'm writing this column to all those others who run DaimlerChrysler Corp. today: Don't mess up the PT.
Look, a single car can't survive today. Look at Saturn Corp. That was a small lineup - sedan, coupe, wagon, two engines, and that wasn't enough. Saturn needed a broader line. As usual, GM was General Too Little and Too Late.
Go back to Mustang, which, like the PT, was a Frog named Falcon massaged into a Prince. Even Mustang started as a hardtop plus a convertible, a six and an eight, then a third model, the fastback, was added, then the hot stuff like The Boss.
The PT could survive a few years as a single model, but it can last for decades as a line. Shucks, it could be a division; it could be a future.
This was the plan. I heard former co-Chairman Bob Eaton say an all-wheel-drive (AWD) version could come a year after the introduction.
I know a convertible, the PT Phaeton, was in the works.
I know a hot engine is doable. I heard about the GT PT in Las Vegas.
I know a great PT Panel can be built because it was shown at the Detroit auto show.
I know there could be an all-sex 2-door, because I saw the Pronto Cruiser.
But suddenly, I don't hear about any of them.
No all-wheel drive, they say.
A hot engine wouldn't fit.
Chryslers aren't panel trucks.
The convertible? Who knows?
Something's gone wrong. Somebody at Chrysler doesn't want a line of PT Cruisers. One model, that's it. They are really ready to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Why would this be? Let's guess.
The PT AWD: We're getting the new 4WD Cherokee from the new Toledo plant in another year, and we don't want a PT AWD that competes with our new Jeep.
That PT Phaeton: We've got the Sebring convertible, 52,000 sales, and we don't want PT competition with our own convertible.
The PT Panel: Chrysler means luxury and tradition. We don't need no stinkin' panel truck.
We have enough Chryslers: five - the Concorde, 300M, LHS, Sebring and (for now) Cirrus. The Germans don't like a lot of lines. Hey, we just killed Plymouth.
Aye, there's the rub. The PT was to be a Plymouth, a whole line of new Plymouths. But now there's no Plymouth.
Maybe it's the Germans. They didn't like Plymouth. Too many lines, they said. They are flopping with their small cars, DD Smart (Double Disaster) and ML A-Class (Money Losing). How embarrassing to see the Americans make a profitable small car when they can't.
That may not make much sense, but what does?
So I'll just tell the people at Chrysler something I've learned:
When you've got a winner, bet the ranch on it. GM didn't bet on Saturn; they starved it out of jealousy.
Don't worry about stealing sales from yourself, because if you don't, then someone else will.
Feed the PT. Set up a PT Team to create variations. Find the production space. Build the PT AWD. Build the PT GT. Build the PT Panel. For heaven's sake, build the PT Phaeton. And just for me and all the guys at Surf City, build the PT Woodie.
Don't worry about the Germans. After all, they'll need something to make them forget Mitsubishi.
- Jerry Flint is a columnist for, and former senior editor of, Forbes magazine.