Originally created 05/20/00

Demand rises for Cruiser

Waiting lists for the retro-designed Chrysler PT Cruiser are continuing to grow at local dealerships.

Mickey Ortiz, sales manager at Milton Ruben Jeep-Eagle Chrysler Plymouth Inc., said five to 10 people a day come in looking to buy the Cruiser.

"It's a crazy car. Folks have been waiting since January. Chrysler had no idea it would take off the way it did. They're selling off the chart," Mr. Ortiz said.

The first official day that dealers could place orders was Feb. 8.

The Milton Ruben Chrysler dealership has sold 36 since then, and five of those have been delivered. The dealership has a waiting list of 205 people, and 55 already have paid deposits.

Mr. Ortiz said he expects the cars to come in at a rate of three or four a month for now. Consumers will have to be patient in the meantime. Mr. Ortiz said all the orders might not be filled until September of next year.

Many dealers throughout the country have taken advantage of the demand by charging premiums beyond the list price for the Cruiser. Mr. Ortiz said his dealership is not one of them.

"The highest sticker price is $20,815, and that is as loaded as you can get," he said.

Eron Cherner, sales manager at Thomson Chrysler Plymouth Dodge Jeep, said they also have made the decision not to charge premiums.

"Some dealers are charging $4,000 to $5,000 over the sticker price. We're not doing that," Mr. Cherner said.

The Thomson dealership's waiting list currently contains more than 30 sold orders.

So far, it received one Cruiser last month and one will be delivered this month, but that number is expected to rise.

"Sold orders should be coming in more frequently," he said.

Both sales managers agree that the style of the four-door car is what is attracting consumers. Its design is a cross among 1930s sedans, London taxis and woody wagons. Inside, seats fold to open the space, as in a minivan. Mr. Ortiz said he also believes the reasonable price is a factor.

"There is no demographic for this car. It's for everyone," Mr. Ortiz said.

He said his youngest customer has been 21, while the oldest is closer to 80.

Mr. Cherner said that most of the people looking to get a PT Cruiser at the Thomson dealership are 35 and older.

Triangle Jeep Eagle Chrysler Plymouth in Aiken has delivered one Cruiser and presold six more. Sales manager Craig Rich said the dealership has 18 people on its waiting list.

Mr. Rich said his oldest interested customer was 88.

"The senior crowd can remember days gone by and what was in style at that time. And it's affordable and stylish to the young," he said.

In 1998, there was a similar interest when the retro-designed Volkswagen New Beetle reappeared. Erick Vanderhoef, sales manager at Gerald Jones Volkswagen, said the waiting list continued up until six months ago. Now the dealership stocks about 10 of the cars - its best-selling model - on the lot.

"The car had been gone so long and they brought it back. It's just the nostalgia of the car," Mr. Vanderhoef said.

Ford Motor Co. plans to introduce a retro-designed Thunderbird by Christmas or early next year.

Mike Combs, sales manager at Fairway Ford in Evans, said Ford is planning ahead to fill the demand.

"I know there's going to be a large turnout. I already have had a number of inquiries," he said.

Other manufacturers are choosing not to follow in the footsteps of Chrysler and Volkswagen.

Richard E. Colliver, executive vice president of automobile sales for American Honda Motor Co. Inc., said Honda has no plans to venture into alternative styles.

"That's not the direction we're going to go. Those sometimes build up consumer interest but are a flash in the pan," he said.

Reach Jennifer Bishop at (706) 823-3217.


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