- The Washington Times - Friday, September 1, 2000

Even before Chrysler's PT Cruiser went on sale, a fan club sprang up in Washington state. That club now has 4,000 members nationally and is growing rapidly, fueled by enthusiastic e-mail messages of PT fans spreading the word.
It's not hard to see why the PT is so popular. Of the dozens of cars I drive annually, the Cruiser is the one that has evoked the most interest of passers-by. Almost every place I went with the PT, strangers would approach for a closer look and ask questions about what I thought of it. That's easy to answer: the Cruiser is really a fun car to look at and to drive. My interrogators seemed to feel the same way, despite the fact they haven't driven one.
Many people must agree. About 32,000 of the vehicles with a retro design that reminds many of a scaled-down London taxi have been sold since late March though July 31. That figure is limited by production capacity. Chrysler's factory in Toluca, Mexico, is expected to build 120,000 to 140,000 Cruisers by year's end, so you will see many more on the road. Next year, Toluca is scheduled to build at least 180,000 PT Cruisers.
What's all the fuss about? The PT Cruiser is a vehicle that even Chrysler can't decide how to label. Neither can Uncle Sam. The National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration says the PT is a car. The Environmental Protection Agency calls it a truck, a fortunate designation for Chrysler because as a truck the Cruiser will help the company lower its truck CAFE (corporate average fleet economy) enormously.
Well, what is it? The Cruiser is just about anything you want a small vehicle to be. It has an enormously roomy interior for a vehicle its size. At least six PTs have been converted into taxis and are in service in Las Vegas and San Francisco. The interior also has great flexibility. In the Limited version, you can fold down both front and rear seats, creating a mini camper for vacation trips, or a place to carry a large amount of cargo.
Even though the football season is in its early stages, the PT Cruiser has already made its mark as a vehicle that's ideal for tailgate parties. The PT was designed as a young person's vehicle, yet the initial buyers include many mature persons. Bryan Nesbitt, the principal exterior designer, is only 31 years old. He was largely responsible for the design of the born-again VW Beetle before he joined Chrysler.
Mr. Nesbitt's Cruiser design hints at many uses, which are only limited by your imagination. And the inaugural version is just the first of many types of PT Cruisers that will arise from the original design. Chrysler won't comment officially, but rumors emanating from company insiders hint at a four-wheel-drive model that would be ideal for skiers.
Chrysler engineers are working on a new generation of Cruisers right now. Officially, their designers won't comment on the future products. But neither do they rule them out. Also expected to appear in future years is a Cruiser panel truck and perhaps a pickup.
Chrysler may have a sensation on its hands and be forced to search for more manufacturing capacity to meet demand for the PT Cruiser. Even a recent disappointing rating in a government-run crash test does not seem to have decreased demand for the PT. The automaker does not take issue with the test but notes that the PT missed scoring a satisfactory rating by a hair.
If there is anything negative to say about the PT, it is the lack of power. The 150-horsepower engine seems inadequate, especially when teamed with an automatic transmission. A manual transmission makes the engine feel more lively. In other respects the PT is an eminently satisfactory vehicle even when you don't know whether to call it a car or a truck.

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