2014 trucks and the PT Cruiser: A cautionary tale

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In June, Chrysler Group announced its Ram 1500 would offer a diesel engine option – the first light duty truck to offer a diesel engine.

With year-end steadily approaching, Ram has a problem on its hands. An upturn in the demand for diesel trucks and a marketing strategy packaged around Ram’s newest entry have built somewhat of a perfect storm for supply and demand.

Following the truck’s launch, Ram Marketing President Dave Sowers says interest was high, but the amount of powertrains that can be produced is limited.

Sowers told Edmunds the company estimated a 10-to-15 percent take-rate initially.

“We would potentially be limited by our suppliers’ ability to deliver engines and transmissions in significantly greater numbers,” he told Edmunds

Today, The Columbus Dispatch published an article revealing demand for redesigned GM trucks is beginning out outpace production. 

The problem has hit such a level that the Detroit mothership has limited the number of V8 trucks dealers can order. 

I was in middle school when Chrysler launched the PT Cruiser; a little mobster looking minivan/SUV/small car on a light truck chassis jam-up. The things sold like crazy. In a market awash in Honda Civics and Toyota Camrys, the Cruiser was revolutionary. It was a head-turner for sure.

And everybody wanted one.

My dad wanted one.

He went to car lot after car lot, and at each the story was the same.

These little four-cylinder hatchback cars were selling above sticker price and were on backorder for months. 

Demand for the cars built to near frenzied levels. You could comb the newspaper classifieds and find people selling brand new ones – cars they bought only a few days ago themselves – listed for a premium. And they sold. 

Chrysler responded to the booming demand by ramping up production and flooding a market that was beginning to lose interest. That shrinking market included my dad, who grew tired of searching and waiting and eventually opted for the more readily available Chevy Corvette. (I know. Bonus cool points for my dad.) 

After a few decent years, popularity for the PT Cruiser waned and following a nine year run, Chrysler shut production on the car down in 2010. 

Not that there’s any risk whatsoever of Ram, Silverado or GM truck lines shutting down in nine years, but it’s hard to build momentum and marketshare when your salesforce is having to tell customers “no.”

Ram and General Motors would do well to be reminded that an updated Ford F Series line is expected to launch next fall. People standing in line for the Ram EcoDiesel or refreshed GM truck very well may sacrifice their spot if they can drive an F Series – or Corvette – home sooner.