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Ragtop to the Rescue

When is a truck not a truck? The answer is simple enough: When it’s a convertible. The PT Cruiser sedan is classified as a truck while the all new PT Cruiser convertible is classified as a car.

This market segment molting occurs because the rear seats in the PT convertible are not removable and do not fold flat into the floor to produce a cargo bay. In the sedan this is of course possible and attractive. This vehicle is a potential segment bender, if not buster.

The salient question is will the metamorphosis in market segment produce a true metamorphosis in buyer demographics? Or, will the new convertible simply eat into sedan sales? Must Chrysler give up some caterpillars to get some butterflies?

The company is certainly betting that it can have both. If nothing else, the PT convertible models will surely augment flagging PT sedan sales and both models will be assembled on the same line in Toluca, Mexico, so there is considerable flexibility to match up with market demands ¨C which are usually seasonally volatile in the case of convertibles.

It is of paramount importance to have that base covered and avoid adding to overcapacity woes. That has certainly been accomplished. Additionally, the Toluca plant surprised nearly everyone with the high initial quality of its PT products and it has built some 640,000 units since the PT’s introduction in 2000. The experience base is extremely solid.

Over its history, Chrysler has had solid success in the ragtop market, most recently with the Le Barons in the 1980s and current Sebring convertible.

Where in many model segments, builders fight for a bigger piece of the pie, in the convertible segment they fight for a bigger piece of the “cupcake,” observed Pamela Niekamp, senior manager, PT Cruiser Marketing for DCX, at last months roll out of the ragtop in Phoenix.

That cupcake amounts to about 300,000 units annually in North America, yet growth in the last four years has been close to 50 percent in the luxury specialty segment and more than 40 percent in the standard luxury segment, she points out.

With a spread of three basic models with a broad range of trim and powerplant options, the PT Cruiser convertibles straddle a good part of both segments beginning at the low end and with some penetration of the upper end.

The MSRP at the 150 hp low end is $19,995, which Chrysler says is the lowest priced convertible available in the U.S., and at the top of the line is the 220 hp GT convertible, with an MSRP of $27,565.

No one would argue that price, trim levels, handling and performance do not have demographic dynamics, and the PT program has baited each trap well. (More on design details next month.)

At the margin, I’m guessing there are many buyers who like the jaunty, quirky look of the PT, but prefer a convertible. These butterflies may not be free, but at least they are now available to everyone.

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Mon. May 20th, 2024

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