Next September marks the 65th anniversary of this year wade through releasing a car that failed so badly is now an industry-wide case study of how not to fall in your face. We are talking about the famous Ford Edsel announced on September 5, 1957, almost a year after joining Ford Motor Company Division on November 19, 1956.
Launched as the 1958 Ford Edsel, the brand was envisioned as a top-of-the-line model line for middle-income Americans. The Blue Oval was so optimistic about the brand’s wealth that it shoveled $250 million into the project. But the Ford Edsel failed to deliver on the revolutionary promise it was supposed to keep, and the parent company lost more than it invested, $350 million to be exact.
Unimpressed experts describe it with adjectives such as ‘ugly’, ‘gas wasteer’, ‘excessive’, ‘too expensive’, ‘not on time’, and other unpleasant rebukes. Cars with a lifespan shorter than two years Edsel (1958 – ’59) fared better. The fate of Edsel is a cautionary tale not only for enterprising individuals and entities but for all those who hope to achieve something worthwhile, especially since along the way there have been several victories for Edsel.
A Brief Backstory About Ford Edsel
Bill Gates, reportedly the fourth richest person alive, was equally blown away by the fall of the Ford Edsel. For Mr Gates, Ford executives are to blame for a failure that shouldn’t have happened if they had actually acted on the poll results. Some circles will tell you that the new project was over-surveyed, which somehow contributed to Edsel’s fate.
“Although Edsel should be advertised, and promoted, strictly based on preferences expressed in polls,” wrote the late John Brooks, author, and longtime contributor to The New Yorker magazine, “some ancient snake oil sales methods, intuitive rather than scientific, are creeping in. .”
Part of this story entertained businessmen, but Brooks recalled other factors that could be attributed to the gearhead: the car “shipped with an oil leak, a sticky hood, a boot that couldn’t be opened, and a pushbutton that… Hammer.” Our own gearhead cringes at the thought. It’s nearly impossible to attribute such an image to the Blue Oval, which is why the bits of backstory about Edsel are in order.
The ill-fated brand was named after Henry Ford’s son Edsel Ford and was developed to eat deeper into GM and Chrysler’s market share. It was also an expansionist project that transformed the already merged Lincoln-Mercury Division into the Mercury-Edsel-Ford Division while sharing the body with Ford and Mercury vehicles.
By the time Edsel was introduced, Blue Oval was no longer a family business but a public company that could sell cars based on current market trends. So Edsel holds a lot of promise not only for the company, but also for the American auto scene that hasn’t seen a new local brand for nearly two decades after the launch of the 1956 Continental.
Blue Oval invested heavily in marketing campaigns that presented the Edsel as the car of the future. But despite the various advanced features, Edsel’s foray for the 1958 model year was a commercial failure, and the 1957–’58 economic recession couldn’t be helped. According to writer and scholar Edsel Jan Deutsch, “the goal is right, but the goal is moving.” In other words, the Edsel was the wrong car at the right time.
Ford Edsel: The Most Famous Failure in the Car Industry
The Ford Edsel couldn’t have been the auto industry’s most notorious fiasco if ugliness — no, thanks to the center vertical grille — was the model line’s only problem. Nothing kills a brand faster than poor quality, and Edsel Ford was accused of that too. But is that enough to sink a promising brand?
Most of the millions invested in the project went to marketing, spreading the good news that low-income Americans would get seven premium models, including four sedans and three station wagons, offered in the same price range as the Mercury. . Such tidbits, combined with Ford’s deep war chest, proved to be the dynamo that smashed the Edsel program to smithereens as the dust settled.
Buried in a mound of theories explaining Edsel’s failure are the conclusive causes – internal politics and product overhype. The latter is evidenced by the thousands of enthusiastic customers who thronged dealerships in September when the Edsel Ford first hit the market. They came, saw, and were unimpressed with a brand named after Henry Ford’s own son, had a separate Ford division, took ten years to plan and develop, and spent over $200 million to bring it to fruition. Public expectations are too high for Edsel.
With 18 models introduced, the Edsel needed to outperform other cars that year to reach its sales target. Before the year ended, monthly sales were down by about a third. Overhype, which simply means excessive advertising, is usually worse when you get the facts wrong. Ford can hardly be blamed for investing a lot of money into research that reveals what appears to be an airtight case for a mid-priced new car to compete with Chrysler’s Dodge and DeSoto, GM’s Pontiac, Oldsmobile, and Buick.
Studies show that by 1965, half of all US families would be in the $5,000 group and up and would have to buy more cars in the mid-priced area, which already had 60% of the market. Thus, Edsel is a promising brand. Edsel may fail as a unique brand, but it lives on in the Ford Mercury.
Internal politics, led by controversial hotshot son Robert McNamara, who was later appointed Secretary of Defense by President John F. Kennedy, led to the sudden closure of the Edsel brand just before the Edsel Comet brand was released for the 1960 model year. Thus, Lincoln-Mercury sold the unbranded Comet. division, and sold far better than the entire Edsel model line in its two years of existence.
Although the Comet does feature some of the design features of the full-size Edsel line, including its oval tail lamp lens (though angled diagonally, creating its rear tail fin) along with the instrument cluster. Also, the Comet key is styled like the Edsel key (changes the emblem style from “E” to “C”). Edsel outlived the Comet after being labeled as Mercury in 1962 and produced until 1977. Apparently, his aim was right, but the target moved.