Image credits: © Chrysler.

The launch of the new Chrysler PT Cruiser Convertible marks another era in the life of the popular, §egmènt-busting PT Cruiser. Production began earlier this month at the Chrysler Group's Toluca (Mexico) Assembly Plant, the same plant that produces the award-winning Chrysler PT Cruiser sedan. (concept carz)
The PT Cruiser era began at Toluca Assembly back in February 2000 wîth the introduction of the §egmènt-busting vehicle. Most recently, the PT Cruiser tied for first place for the best ownership experience in the Compact Car category of Strategic Vision's 2003 Total Quality Index™.
'We are pleased wîth the smooth production launch of the Chrysler PT Cruiser Convertible,' said Tom LaSorda, Executive Vice President-Manufacturing, Chrysler Group. 'The employees' dedication to customer satisfaction and the application of proven manufacturing processes and technologies have created a vehicle wîth the highest levels of quality and head-turning style that is part of the PT Cruiser heritage.'
A cross-functional launch team for the convertible was able to maintain production of the Chrysler PT Cruiser sedan while managing the plant changeover required for the launch. The rolling changeover, which generally involves the addition of new assembly equipment and tooling, quality verification of the equipment and training for new manufacturing processes, was implemented in between the first and second shifts, as well as on weekends. Both the customer and the company benefit from this approach because it enables a faster ramp-up of production and reduces program expenses usually caused by down time.
'The entire team at the plant contributed to the successful operations we've seen at Toluca Assembly,' said Roberto Gutierrez, Vice President-Mexico Manufacturing Operations, Chrysler Group. 'From the ongoing production of PT Cruiser to the rolling changeover, we achieved positive gains in productivity and quality, without missing a day of production.'
Quality SystemsThrough the application of team-based operating principles and dedication to continuous improvement, the Toluca Assembly plant has earned a reputation for producing high-quality vehicles wîth world-class efficiency. Numerous in-plant quality systems, several of which are interconnected, support this effort.
Every area of the plant's operations uses a consistent, quality verification system. This system confirms that the highest level of quality is met at each work zone before a vehicle moves to the next area of assembly. When a potential issue is identified, the plant's Quality Alert System (QAS) allows assemblers to isolate the issue and take immediate action for problem resolution.
Technology also plays a key role in quality verification. In the body shop, a state-of-the-art metrology laboratory checks body panels and assemblies for dimensional accuracy. In the trim, chassis and final assembly area, hand-held testers are used by employees for in-station programming of the electronic systems and verification of their functionality. Optical aiming equipment assures correct headlamp installation and proper headlamp aim for the beams. Each vehicle also is tested wîth computerized chassis dynamometers that perform final checks before the car exits the assembly line.
Even wîth the launch of the PT Cruiser Convertible, Toluca Assembly Plant continues to trend favorably in terms of vehicle quality. Warranty costs at the facility were among the lowest of all Chrysler Group manufacturing plants for the 2003 model year and improved more than 20 percent between the 2001 and 2002 model years.
Operational Changes

A number of changes were implemented at Toluca Assembly in preparation for PT Cruiser Convertible production and to add greater plant flexibility. New robotic equipment was installed in the body shop's welding operations for improved precision and efficiency. The trim, chassis and final assembly area was expanded to build both sedans and convertibles.
A new dedicated line was installed for the convertible's underbody process. A combination of robotic and employee-manned work stations weld the PT Cruiser Convertible's underbody, engine compartment and body side systems. This arrangement reduces floor space requirements for a more flexible and efficient plant, which results in the capacity to build additional body lines within the plant at a minimal investment.
Error-prevention devices are incorporated in PT Cruiser Convertible underbody weld fixtures, including clamps to guide panels into place and sensors to ensure all parts are present before welding begins.
Convertible assemblers use a newly installed ergonomic assist arm to position the top module for installation to the vehicle. A fixture then aligns the top to the rear quarter panels, while fasteners lock the top into the proper alignment. Úsing the setting fixture assures a repeatable fit to the vehicle, which helps achieve the optimal fit and finish on the final vehicle.
Most of the PT Cruiser Convertible's interior trim, including the new seats, is installed on the final line. Workers put the seats in the convertible bodies using a combination of new and modified articulated arms that protect the vehicle during installation. The newly modified material delivery system makes the convertible seat installation easier by bringing the seats to the assembler in the installed position.
Hands-on Training from Development to Launch

Training for Toluca Assembly PT Cruiser Convertible operators began early in the development of the vehicle program and was cascaded to the entire work force at the plant. A select group of operators from Toluca Assembly traveled to the Chrysler Group Pilot Plant Facility in Auburn Hills, Mich., where they co-developed and refined the convertible build process. Based on their experience wîth the PT Cruiser sedan manufacturing process, this group captured and incorporated the sedan best practices into the convertible build before the new vehicle launched. The joint Toluca/Auburn Hills team identified system refinements early to ensure that the product and the process worked together prior to the second phase of pilot vehicle build.
Úsing the first-hand knowledge and experience gained at the Auburn Hills Pilot facility, the original team of Toluca Assembly employees returned to train the rest of the workforce, ensuring a seamless progression to launch.
To further enhance product quality at launch and after, all assemblers were trained and tested for knowledge of both the PT Cruiser Convertible product and related assembly processes that apply to their work station.
More than four years, 1,400 days, 11,000 hours and 610,000 vehicles' worth of PT Cruiser sedan experience go into every single Chrysler PT Cruiser Convertible that rolls off the Toluca Assembly Plant onto highways around the world. During each minute since the successful launch of the PT Cruiser sedan, plant employees have gained experience building the hugely popular vehicle that started a global phenomenon and invented a new §egmènt of personal transportation never known before.

Source - Chrysler
Planning a revamp for the Plymouth line, previewed by the Plymouth Prowler 'hot rod', Chrysler was hoping the PT Cruiser would be the daring new look to capture fans. Evoking memories of panel vans of the 1930s and old gangster getaway cars, Chrysler debuted the PT Cruiser in 2001. A retro styled compact car, it was produced from 2001 until 2010 as a four-door wagon, and from 2005 until 2008 it was available as a two-door convertible. It shared a platform with the Neon, and had a reputation of utility and dependability. The PT Cruiser was originally conceived as a Plymouth model but it got the Chrysler nameplate when the Plymouth brand was discontinued in 2001. Designed by Bryan Nesbitt who also later styled the Chevy HHR, the initials PT stood for 'Personal Transport'. The PT abbreviation is also used on the similar retro styled Chrysler concept car; the Pronto Cruiser.

Many of the design features, in particular the grille, were used to create the Plymouth Pronto concept car in 97. The following year the look was fine-tuned and another Plymouth concept called the Chrysler Pronto Cruizer directly previewed the design of the PT Cruiser. With Neon components, the Pronto Cruizer was created as a contemporary interpretation of the Chrysler Airflow, but the final design used a completely separate platform. The PT Cruiser grew out of collaboration among Chrysler executive Robert A. Lutz, designer Bryan Nesbitt and Dr. Clotaire Rapaille.

Classified as a truck in the US by the NHTSA for CAFE fuel economy calculations, the PT cruiser is called a car by all other metrics. The Cruiser was designed to fit the NHTSA standards for a light truck in order to bring the average fuel efficiency of the company's light truck fleet into compliance with CAFE standards. The car featured a maximum cargo space of 76 cubic feet and had plenty of seating room and headroom. Incredibly versatile, the seats in the back could be completely folded down or removed and there was a two-tiered luggage area.

Manufactured at Toluca Car Assembly in Toluca, Mexico, the PT Cruiser was awarded the North American Car of the Year in 2001. Car and Driver also recognized the PT Cruiser on its Ten Best List for the same year. In 2006 DaimlerChrysler announced that it had produced 1,000,000 PT Cruisers at the Toluca Plants. The car was assembled at the EUROSTAR Automobilwerk in Graz, Austria for global markets in 2002 and used the production code PG. In Europe the Cruisers built in 2001, or in Mexico from 2003 on were under the production code PT.

The standard engine in the PT Cruiser was a 2.4-liter four-cylinder producing 150 horsepower. Either a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic was offered. A 2.2 L four-cylinder diesel engine was built by Mercedes Benz and was available in Europe, Asia and South Africa. Outside of the U.S. a 2.0 L engine (D4RE) that produced 140 hp SAE at 6500 rpm with 130 lb/ft of torque at 4800 rpm was offered. The acceleration was considered sufficient, but the fuel economy was disappointing for a small wagon. Chrysler added a turbocharged GT model for 2003. Initially it produced 215 horsepower, and grew to 230 hp for 2006. It was discontinued for 2007. A 180-hp turbo engine was offered on certain trims from 2004 through 2009.

The body style of the PT Cruiser remained reliably the same each year, however there were various versions of the car. The versions were designated by badges in the lower left hand corner of the rear lift-gate. Cruiser models included the Classic Edition, Limited Edition, Touring Edition, 'Dream Cruiser', 'Street Cruiser, and 'Pacific Coast Highway Edition'. There was also Non-GT Turbo edition models that were classified by a '2.4L Turbo' badge found on the lower right hand corner of the rear lift-gate. Introduced in 2003 the GT model featured a '2.4L Turbo High Output' badge on the right hand edge of the lift-gate.

Debuting in 2003 was a turbocharged version of the PT Cruiser dubbed the PT Cruiser GT. It utilized the same 2.4 L turbocharged I4 engine as the Dodge Neon SRT 4. It had a top speed of 125 mph and had numerous features standard that included 4-wheel disc brakes with ABS and traction control, specially tuned suspension, chromed 17' wheels and performance-tuned exhaust system with a large diameter chrome exhaust tip.

Two special packages were offered for the PT Cruiser, the Factory Flame package which offered optional flame-inspired decals spreading from the front fenders, and the Woodie package, available only on 2003 models, featured simulated wood panels that flowed down the side of the vehicle and around the rear hatch.

Introduced in 2005, the four-seat convertible model had two doors with an integrated 'sport bar' for additional rigidity and rollover protection. It was a much less drafty ride in the back of the car thanks to the sport bar. The production of the convertible ceased on December 21, 2007, but the final 2007 convertibles were marketed as 2008 models.

For 2006 the PT Cruiser received some updates that included a new 'chrome' grille, brand new scalloped headlights, redesigned taillights, new lower front fascia that no longer featured patented brake cooling ducts, and available round fog lamps. On the inside the revamp included a modernized dash, an analog clock to the center stack and new materials. Newly innovative to the times, the audio system now had a line-in jack for MP3 players built into the dash. Available as an after market unit on 2007 models was a 'Mopar' cruise control unit.

In 2007 Chrysler dealers were able to order cars with separate options like Side Impact Airbags and anti-lock brakes. Optional this year was Sirius Satellite Radio that could be installed with a factory appearance as a dealer option. The PT Cruiser was the only small vehicle to not offer electronic stability control and one that earned poor marks in side and rear evaluations.

It was announced on January 12, 2009 that Chrysler would be discontinuing the made model. Six months later following reorganization into the 'New Chrysler', the company changed their plans to discontinue the model by stipulating that it will do so for only Mexican and Canadian markets. With a total of 1.35 million models produced, the PT Cruiser ended its production on July 9, 2010.

Various special edition models of the PT Cruiser were available. In 2006 Chrysler offered the Street Cruiser Route 55 model. Finished in either Solar Yellow or Black, the model featured Solar Yellow brake calipers, solar-tinted sunscreen glass, body-color grille, liftgate mounted spoiler and 17' all-season performance tires. It also came with four-wheel anti-lock brakes with low-speed traction control, a sport suspension and speed control. Brightwork accents came with chrome body-side moldings, a chrome exhaust tip and 17', chrome-plated, and five-spoke Empire aluminum wheels. A 'Street Cruiser' badge with Solar Yellow accents on the liftgate and 'Route 66' badges on the front doors were found on the outside of the model. The manual version was priced at $19,185 while the automatic model was priced at $20,020.

The Street Cruiser Pacific Coast Highway Edition model was built on the 2007 Chrysler PT Cruiser Touring model. It had a beautiful Pacific Blue Pearl body and featured chrome bodyside molding, chrome lock knobs, silver shift knob, front bright accent ring cupholders, bright front door sill scuff pads and 4-wheel disc anti-lock brakes. It came with the 'Street Cruiser' badge, Pacific Coast Highway Edition badge, rear body-color spoiler, bright exhaust tip, sport suspension, 6-way power driver's seat, leather steering wheel with bright spokes, additional side air bags, Sirius satellite radio, cloth seats with blue insert and all-season performance tires. This edition was priced at $20,735 for the manual transaxle version and $21,570 for the automatic model.

Based on the 2008 PT Cruiser LX and produced in a limited production run of just 500 models, the Street Cruiser Sunset Boulevard Edition featured 'Sunset Crystal' body with various chrome body-trip pieces accenting it. The model featured deep-tint glass and 16' chrome wheels with all-season touring tires. The price tag for a manual version was $16,650 and $17,475 for the automatic model.

In 2009 the Dream Cruiser Series 5 was introduced for the US market. A total of 1,750 of these models were produced. Featured 4-speed automatic transmission, the majority of the models had a pearl white body, except for 2 models, one in inferno red, and one in bright silver. The Dream Cruisers had a black roof and spoiler, upper and lower billet aluminum cross-hatch pattern grills, the inside of the car was gray with leather and chrome trim, chromed door handles and body-side moldings, chromed stainless steel exhaust tip and 17' SRT Design wheels with all-season performance tires. They also featured specialized 'PT' door badging, PT Dream Cruiser Series 5 tailgate badge, a Brilliant Black Crystal Pearl hoop spoiler and fog lamps. The Dream had a MSRP of $22,700 and was debuted in conjunction with the 2008 Woodward Dream Cruise.

The PT Cruiser Sport edition took its styling cues from the Classic trim of which it was based from. It featured a roof mounted body color spoiler, PT Cruiser Sport badge, exclusive graphite metallic paint and 16' alloy wheels. It was available with a two-liter petrol engine and was priced UK£13,995.
Incredibly eye-catching, the Couture Edition PT Cruiser showcased a contrasting two-tone paint scheme of silver metallic on the bottom and black on the top with a red pinstripe in the middle diving the two. On the inside were Radar Red leather buckets with black piping, chrome appliques and a red shifter knob. With a limited production run of just 500 units, the other exclusive features included 16' chrome clad wheels with chromed bodyside moldings and accent.

Sources:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chrysler_PT_Cruiser
http://www.edmunds.com/chrysler/pt-cruiser/

By Jessica Donaldson
 
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