Image: Chrysler Cruiser
Gary Malerba  /  AP
The 2008 Chrysler PT Street Cruiser Sunset Boulevard Edition is the 11th in a series of custom models in the line.
updated 8/14/2007 3:34:05 PM ET 2007-08-14T19:34:05

Chrysler LLC said Tuesday it will build its iconic PT Cruiser at least through 2009 but made no promises after that, fueling speculation that the stylish retro wagon hurt by a recent slump in sales could be on its way out.

Larry Lyons, vice president of Chrysler's front-wheel-drive product team, wouldn't give any more details on the PT Cruiser's future as he introduced the Sunset Boulevard edition on the sidelines of the Woodward Dream Cruise, an annual classic car fest in suburban Detroit. The Sunset Boulevard is the 11th in a series of customized PT Cruisers.

When it went on sale in 2000 the PT Cruiser was a triumph of Detroit design, with the eye-catching looks of a gangster's getaway car. Chrysler expected to sell just 70,000 PT Cruisers a year but sold more than double that in 2001. The company has sold nearly 1 million Cruisers in the United States in the vehicle's lifetime.

"I think it was really emblematic of Chrysler taking the mantle of styling leadership," said Jack Nerad, executive market analyst for Kelley Blue Book. "Along with the Dodge Viper and the 300C, it really represented the fact that Chrysler was getting very expressive and creative styling-wise. It influenced everybody."

The PT Cruiser's U.S. sales were up 4 percent in 2006, to 138,650, or nearly as many as the hot-selling 300C sedan. But they've started to falter as the PT faces competition from other retro models such as the Chevrolet HHR and from the growing number of wagon-like crossovers on the road.

Nerad said Chrysler also is facing more competition on the styling front than it did in 2000. PT Cruiser sales were down 25 percent in the first seven months of this year, according to Autodata Corp.

Despite the drop, demand is still strong enough for Chrysler to continue making the PT Cruiser, Frank Klegon, Chrysler executive vice president of product development, said in an interview with The Associated Press.

"It's built in Mexico. It's in a very good financial position because it's a low-cost plant. It's very efficient," Klegon said. "Demand obviously has softened up. We'll build out in a reasonable period of time and that will be it."

Klegon said the company has some surprises on the drawing board, possibly a funky small truck or other niche vehicle that could take the PT Cruiser's place and be built on existing, flexible underpinnings. Klegon wouldn't give further details.

Chrysler also is expected to unveil a small crossover vehicle that performs many of the same functions as the PT Cruiser.

"It's a new market now, and we think the new vehicle that we're coming with behind it will play the role with a different style," he said.

In the meantime, Chrysler will try to drum up excitement with the Sunset Boulevard. The newest version comes with "Sunset Crystal" bronze paint, a standard moon roof and chrome accents. It starts at $16,650 for a five-speed manual or $17,475 for a four-speed automatic, or around $995 more than a standard PT Cruiser.

Chrysler will build 500 of the Sunset Boulevard editions, which will go on sale early next month, Lyons said. Chrysler has sold about 11,000 customized PT Cruisers.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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