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Pileup of Delays Over a PT Cruiser's Delivery Fuels Suspicion

November 08, 2000|Jeanne Wright

Question: My son put a deposit on a new Chrysler PT Cruiser in May and was told it would take six to eight weeks for delivery and he should have it the first week of July.

July came and my son was told by the dealer that the manufacturer was behind on orders and it would take another six to eight weeks.

The last time he called, he was told delivery would be this month or the beginning of December. Is he getting the runaround or what? --R.R., Montebello

Answer: Seven to eight months is certainly a long time to wait for a vehicle that was promised in six to eight weeks. The reader's son is far from alone. The PT Cruiser has become such a hot vehicle that Chrysler, as has been widely reported, has been unable to keep up with demand.

Nevertheless, customers should not be misled about how long they will have to wait to get one of these wildly popular vehicles. Putting down a deposit on a vehicle should entitle the buyer to a firm delivery date--especially when the dealer knows the model's availability.

Jay Cooney, senior manager of global sales communication for DaimlerChrysler, says the auto maker is concerned about customer complaints of long delivery waits.

"It's a dealer issue," Cooney said. "The reality is the dealers are apprised of how many [Cruisers] they are going to be getting and we trust them to communicate that to the customer. Dealers are independent businesses. We can't dictate what they want to do with these vehicles."

The dealers know in advance how many PT Cruisers they will be given to sell every month, he said, with the number based on each dealership's total sales of Chrysler vehicles.

"So if a dealer knows that he is getting two Cruisers a month and he is taking orders for 10 a month," Cooney said, "he is going to have eight unhappy customers."

On the other hand, he said, most dealers are upfront about delivery dates, and indeed many around the country have stopped taking orders until they can meet demand.

Before placing an order, Cooney recommends, the buyer should ask the dealership about its monthly allotment and the current length of its waiting list. Dealers should be willing to share this information with customers, he says.

After surveying a few Southern California dealerships, we found that waiting lists for PT Cruisers ranged from eight to 18 months.

"There are instances where people are waiting as long as seven months," Cooney acknowledged, "but for everyone who's waited seven months, there are those who have gotten their vehicles in four to six weeks."

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Our reader from Montebello did not indicate how much of a deposit her son paid or the agreed-upon price of the PT Cruiser in question. But pricing practices by some dealerships have become an issue with customers and the manufacturer. Some PT Cruiser buyers have been willing to pay as much as 50% over the manufacturer's suggested retail price of $16,000 to $20,000.

Cooney says Chrysler discourages dealers from selling Cruisers above the MSRP. But the auto maker can't dictate sale prices or deposit requirements. One Southern California dealer said he had a model available for $36,000, which included lots of extras, of course.

"Our advice would be like with anything: Make sure you get it in writing," Cooney said. "We have established pricing for the vehicle and it is up to the dealer if they are going to adhere to it. . . . The vast majority of them are adhering to it."

Cooney said the auto maker will produce about 150,000 PT Cruisers for the 2001 model year. For 2002 model production, beginning next August, 180,000 Cruisers will be built at the Toluca, Mexico, plant. An additional 50,000 vehicles will be produced at a plant in Austria.

Will that production of about 230,000 Cruisers a year be enough to satisfy customer demand?

"It will help," Cooney said. "The reality is we have the pleasant problem of having the hottest vehicle in the world right now."

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Jeanne Wright cannot answer mail personally but responds in this column to automotive questions of general interest. Write to Your Wheels, Business Section, Los Angeles Times, 202 W. 1st St.,

Los Angeles, CA 90012. E-mail: jeanrite@aol.com.

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