The 2000-to-2010 decade was a strange time of tall-roofed hatchbacks that were intended to evoke some sort of emotional reaction. We had the PT Cruiser and the HHR, of course, but also the Scion xB (2004), the Nissan Cube (2009), the Honda Element (2003) and various other vehicles I’ve probably blocked out of my mind.
Well, did you know the same person designed the two most memorable of these?
That’s right: Car designer Bryan Nesbitt designed the Chrysler PT Cruiser in his role as a designer at Chrysler. As you may remember, the PT Cruiser was a massive success when it first launched in 2001, and the story I’ve always heard is that General Motors wanted to replicate that success — so they hired away Nesbitt to design something similar. The result was the HHR, which debuted in 2006.
Of course, if you’ve actually seen these two vehicles on the road, the fact that they were designed by the same person won’t be surprising in the slightest. Both share the same unusual philosophy, one that wasn’t shared by any other vehicles — namely, a retro design grafted onto the body of a small, front-wheel-drive, compact, 4-cylinder hatchback … or, in other words, a car that never had any place in the history of Detroit automakers, who were used to building huge vehicles with big engines.
Unfortunately, although the HHR was a vastly better car than the PT Cruiser, with a nicer interior and almost unbelievably better road manners, it never sold as well as Chrysler’s retro hatchback. That’s probably because by the time Nesbitt made his way to GM in 2001, and by the time the thing actually got to production five years later, the market just wasn’t as big anymore: The weird emotional hatchback fad of the 2000s was already starting to pass.
These days, a decade after the HHR and 15 years after the PT Cruiser, Bryan Nesbitt still works for GM, where he’s now the head of General Motors International Operations Design in Shanghai. Perhaps this means the Chinese market will soon see the arrival of a tall-roofed retro-styled hatchback. Find a Chrysler PT Cruiser for sale or Find a Chevrolet HHR for sale