The surprise that lurks inside a PT Cruiser

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The PT Cruiser didn't come to Bryan Nesbitt in a flash. And it wasn't something he'd been dreaming of since childhood.

No. It was an assignment. He was told to come up with a small car that Chrysler could sell in Europe. It also had to attract buyers in the United States.

That's a tall order. To be successful in Europe, a car has to be about the size of a VW Golf, with four doors, four cylinders, and a hatchback. Europeans want one small car that can do it all.

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But in the US, no one aspires to owning just one car. "That's like owning one shoe," Mr. Nesbitt says.

How could a single car appeal to both markets? He needed a breakthrough.

It took more than four years for Nesbitt and his team to come up with the idea for the PT Cruiser and bring it to market.

It began with the seat design. By making the seats more upright, they were more comfortable. They could still be close together and fit the European "small car" requirement.

Passengers would sit up higher in the seats and have a wider view of the road. The car would be easier to get into and out of than traditional small cars. Everyone would like that!

Upright seats need a high roof, though. High roofs can look ugly. And the fact is, "no matter how logical the product is, 60 percent of buyers still say they bought it because of the way it looks," Nesbitt says.

Chrysler tested four designs at auto shows. None was very popular. Now what?

Nesbitt put on his "cultural architect" hat. Individualism is a strong theme in US culture, he reasoned. So he looked back through American automotive history. That individualism was strongly expressed in hot rods - 1930s cars customized in the 1950s. Hot rods have an undeniably powerful presence on the road. And cars from the '30s are tall (high roofs) and handsome.

That combination was the perfect way to cloak the practical economy car lurking inside the PT Cruiser.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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