The Reason Chrysler Discontinued The PT Cruiser

If car enthusiasts had to come up with a Mount Rushmore of classically bad cars, the Chrysler PT Cruiser's retro grille would be a shoe in for a featured. Next to the Pontiac Aztek, the PT Cruiser makes an appearance in nearly every discussion about ugly cars. Michael Scott of "The Office," who can be characterized as a sad character, drives a PT Cruiser for a few seasons on the show. But it's iconic — not because of how mechanically bad it was, but because the design has aged poorly.

The PT Cruiser was produced from model years 2001 to 2010. Despite its look, the Cruiser still enjoys a loyal fanbase more than a decade after Chrysler pulled the plug. This is also not a case of a strange looking car failing to achieve a foothold in the market like the aforementioned Aztek. Over its life, Chrysler made well over a million PT Cruisers for North America and the export market. But its failure could be attributed to a refusal to update or change over its decade-long life.

Never update, never innovate

The PT Cruiser arrived during a stagnant time in Chrysler's history — not only as a brand, but an entire stable. Gone were the prosperous days of the K-car platform and the euphoria of practically inventing the minivan. A quick look at Chrysler's lineup from the time would elicit a silent, if not compassionate glance. If you looked up the word "anonymous" in the dictionary, a 2002 Chrysler Sebring would likely be one of the first illustrations. This was almost a full decade before the Dodge Charger and Dodge Challenger took the muscle car world by storm.

The PT Cruiser sought to change that. At least on the outside, it was supposed to be a fun car for taking trips to the beach or cruising around town. There was even a two-door convertible model. It was supposed to invoke dreams of a surf wagon from the 1930s and 1940s, instead it was a nightmare. It may not have mattered if the PT Cruiser had a powerful engine or fun handling characteristics, or Chrysler decided to update the design over its 10-year lifespan. 

As it was, the company did very little in the way of change.the PT Cruiser stayed the same through the time span that cars typically go through refreshes or entire generational changes, according to Edmunds

A long slow death

Mechanically, the PT Cruiser was nothing to write home about. The base model was equipped with a sad and sluggish 150-horsepower engine when it debuted and remained nearly the same for the model's full lifespan aside from a few small increases in power. The 230-horsepower turbocharged PT Cruiser GT was the lone bright spot. But it would take more than some forced induction to keep the public's interest alive. From the start in 2001, PT Cruisers achieved a lackluster fuel economy of 20 combined miles per gallon for a base model. A 2010 PT Cruiser did only marginally better at 21 combined miles per gallon, according to the EPA

Like someone who forgot they left the oven on, it's almost like Chrysler forgot it was making the PT Cruiser and let production continue for several years before noticing. By the time it hit 2010, the PT Cruiser was crushed in nearly every metric by competition. At the end of the decade, it died essentially died of old age.