NEW YORK – The debate over exactly what the next PT Cruiser should be rages on at Chrysler Group, which still hasn’t settled on a platform for the next-generation model believed to be less than two years away.

A PT Cruiser replacement is due in the ’08 model year, according to Ward’s data. But the auto maker still is trying to decide whether to base the vehicle on the C-segment platform that underpins the new Dodge Caliber-Jeep Compass/Patriot now hitting the market or the larger D-segment architecture that will spawn replacements for the Dodge Stratus/Chrysler Sebring due this fall.

“That’s the big debate right now, which one of those is the next PT Cruiser platform?” Frank O. Klegon, executive vice president-product development, says in an interview here at the New York International Auto Show. “We haven’t settled the PT Cruiser yet.”

Klegon says either platform will work for the next-generation PT, and like the Belvidere, IL, plant that makes the C-platform vehicles and the Sterling Heights, MI, facility that will build the new D-segment cars, the PT plant in Toluca, Mexico, will be capable of building both platforms in a completely flexible volume mix.

“It’s just a matter of what’s the package, what size vehicle is the next PT Cruiser?” Klegon says. “It’s hard. You have a retro vehicle – and how do you update a retro vehicle?

“We have a lot of these discussions of what does the next PT Cruiser want to be,” he adds. “I don’t necessarily see it getting much bigger – or that it wants to be any bigger for that matter. But (there is) no decision on that one.”

Chrysler still has some time, Klegon says, declining to confirm the ’08 model timeframe for the next-generation model. The PT Cruiser was just refreshed for ’06 with a more powerful engine, tweaked exterior, new instrument panel and additional content, he points out, and the vehicle is holding ground in the market.

Helped in part by incentives, combined sales of the hardtop and convertible models in the U.S. are up 15.7% through the first quarter at 32,526.

“I think those were the most important steps for the PT,” Klegon says of the “06 upgrades. “Because the styling statement is the styling statement, and there’s not necessarily a big draw to change it right now.”

Klegon says the current PT is as much about interior packaging as exterior styling, and that’s something the new model will have to be, as well.

“In addition to looks, it was all the flexibility that vehicle has in seating and other things,” he says. “And now those are elements that are put into the Caliber, Compass and Patriot. And those are similar elements you have to look forward to (in the next PT).”

dzoia@wardsauto.com