By Andrew Ganz
Friday, Jul 9th, 2010 @ 8:14 am
 
As we previewed earlier, Chrysler will officially build its last PT Cruiser at its Toluca, Mexico, assembly plant later today. The PT Cruiser became one of Chrysler's best selling vehicles at its launch and had strong enough continued demand to receive a short term stay of execution last year.

More than 1.3 million PT Cruisers were built following its launch more than 11 years ago. During its first few years, the PT was unquestionably a runaway success for Chrysler, but the automaker never launched a second generation model and demand began to trail off substantially over the last few years.

The PT was one of the first cars to benefit from nationwide Internet sales. Dealers all over the country offered their inventory online, allowing consumers far more choices - and, for many, the ability to have an early PT at a premium price. Some PT Cruisers sold at more than double their list price and a few dealerships imported excess inventory from Canada - much to Chrysler's chagrin. Extra plant capacity was added in Mexico and, in its heyday, Chrysler built 50,000 annually at its plant in Graz, Austria, for the European market.

Reprieve
When Daimler took over Chrysler in the late 1990s, one of German cost cutter Wolfgang Berhnard's first decisions was to cease production of the Jeep Cherokee. Despite strong demand, the Cherokee was unquestionably outdated since it was based on a lightly refreshed 1984 design.

Ten years later, Chrysler was under new Italian ownership and it had a similarly dated, but still decent-selling offering: The PT Cruiser. Chrysler itself was planning to kill off the small hatchback since it didn't have the cash for a redesign, but Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne saw that tooling for the car's assembly had been paid off and that the line was profitable despite the product's age.

The PT Cruiser was allowed to live another year.

Now, the factory will shut down to retool to assemble the equally quirky Fiat 500, a car executives in both Milan and Auburn Hills hope will match the PT Cruiser's demand.