Prescience and the PT Cruiser

In the summer of 1994, I was invited to have lunch with Jacques Nasser (he was "Jac" back then) in the executive dining area at Ford.

In the summer of 1994, I was invited to have lunch with Jacques Nasser (he was "Jac" back then) in the executive dining area at Ford. Only one other journalist was invited. Cozy affairs like this aren't all that unusual, and they are useful. The writer gets to see the executive on a more personal level, which is a great way to co-opt him outright, or soften his coverage of the executive and the company. And the executive gets to match a face and a name. This is very helpful when describing a target to an assassin should the seduction not work. But back to the story.

Near the end of the lunch discussion, Nasser asked each of us what would be "the next big thing." My colleague suggested Nasser grab the then-new Mazda RX-7, put a Ford engine under the hood, and sell it as a halo vehicle for the entire company. Little did he know this would spark Nasser to demand just that. Which led to some hilarious plan-view drawings showing four of a V12's cylinders out past the front of the car, a V8 stuffed in just behind the leading edge of the RX-7's front fascia, and a V6 snuggled tightly in the space occupied by the Mazda rotary engine. Suffice it to say, the idea didn't go any farther.

My suggestion received what I like to call the "RCA dog" response: a quizzical look followed by the listener's head cocking to one side, eyes wide open. "I don't know what you'd call it," I began, "but I refer to it as an AAV, an All Activity Vehicle. It'd be built off the Mondeo wagon, and be available with front- or four-wheel-drive. The interior would be completely reconfigurable–you could even hang stuff on the inner walls–and when the seats are folded, the load floor would be flat all the way to the front seat. And the passenger's seat would fold flat so it could swallow longer objects." I continued: "There'd also be a V6 version with a sport suspension and manual transmission, various equipment packages, and it would start well under $20,000."

By this time Nasser's head had resumed its normal upright position, and he started asking questions. "Did it have to be four-wheel-drive? Why the Mondeo platform and not the Escort? Wouldn't the market be better served by a small SUV?" And so on. I answered his questions the best I could: "No, but you could build an off-road version as well as a powerful on-road version with four-wheel-drive. The Escort is too small, and the Mondeo is just about right. Do people want a small SUV?" (Little did I know they would–and then some.) Then came the clincher: "What would it look like?," he asked. I replied, "It'd look like a modern interpretation of a 1937 Ford panel van." That's when the RCA dog look returned. "Who the hell would buy that?," he bellowed. "A lot of people," I said defensively. "More than you might expect."

The funny thing was, Nasser may have missed out on building the PT Cruiser, but if I'd been in charge, the Escape would have been a lower volume vehicle sold through Lincoln Mercury dealers at best. Nasser took the safer, and more profitable, route. Which left the door open for Chrysler to once again borrow from Ford's past for its future. (I had nothing to do with the Chrysler project.) Now if only the folks in Auburn Hills would further develop the basic PT Cruiser concept, it might save the car from oblivion, and me from having to say that Nasser was right. C'mon Dieter, help me out!