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Love it or hate it, many people working for Chrysler poured their soul into the creation of the PT Cruiser. It was a strange era of automotive design, taking “cues” from the past and translating them to modern vehicles. The PT Cruiser is just one vehicle that came out of this time period, a period helmed by automotive designer Bryan Nesbitt.

Bryan Nesbitt and PT Cruiser
Bryan Nesbitt and PT Cruiser | James Leynse/National Motor via Getty Images

Who is Bryan Nesbitt?

Born on January 24th, 1969, Bryan Nesbitt was one of the youngest designers GM ever hired. He started his career in 1994, after graduating from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California with a Transportation Design degree, making him just 25 years old at the time.

Two years later, in 1996, Bryan was offered the role of executive designer for the Chrysler PT Cruiser. The Cruiser is certainly his most famous work, for better or worse. But he was also responsible for the similarly styled Chevy HHR and more recent Malibu, two other nostalgia-based automobiles in GM’s lineup.

Though his repetition doesn’t end there. We’ll spitball the other automobiles he played a hand in, which include the Pontiac Solstice, Pontiac G6 coupe, Cadillac DTS and BLS, the Buick Lucerne, Chevrolet Cobalt, Saturn Aura and Sky, the GMC Acadia, Saturn Outlook, and the Buick Enclave. An extensive list of automobiles, some of which are still in production today (and others that are defunct).

But so many people hate the PT Cruiser from a design standpoint alone, which sticks out among the cars of today. So that begs the question: what was Chrysler thinking?

Bryan’s design philosophy for the PT Cruiser

Chrysler PT Cruiser
Chrysler PT Cruiser | Jeff Kowalsky/AFP via Getty Images

For starters, let’s understand that the PT Cruiser was an appropriate car for the time. People were clamoring over nostalgia and the Cruiser filled that market well. But not only that, the Cruiser was incredibly practical and remarkably cheap. A vehicle for people who always complain about how cars “used to cost only X dollars back in the day.”

Bryan described the Cruiser as “a celebration of automotive heritage coupled with innovation, efficiency and a twist of rebellion,” in a GM press release. While the efficiency note is debatable, as it only gets about 24 mpg combined, the design cues are there. Heavily inspired by liftbacks of the 30s, it has a sort of hot rod posture and flare to it. Keyword: sort of.

But that nostalgia sold. Critics raved about the PT Cruiser when its concept was revealed in 1997. And in 2001, the PT Cruiser won the MotorTrend Car of the Year award. So even if it’s aged more like cheese than wine, there’s no denying that Bryan won big with the PT Cruiser.

Where is Bryan today?

Bryan Nesbitt standing in front of Chevy Malibu
Bryan Nesbitt | Emile Wamsteker for Chevrolet

That extensive history with GM has clearly paid off. He’s since worked his way up to executive director of global advanced design and global architecture studios. Now based in Shanghai China, Nesbitt doesn’t dabble in design but does manage the GM Advanced Design Center campus. And funnily enough, this design school is located in Pasadena, California, where Nesbitt got his start.

Bryan now pays it forward to the designers of tomorrow, with The Detroit News reporting a $71 million investment to enlarge the campus. So, love it or hate it, the PT Cruiser gave Nesbitt the credit he needed to support the future of automotive design today.


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