Ford Edsel - a classic failure

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By Robert Harland


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

MENTION the Ford Edsel to anyone of a certain age and they'll immediately recall this car was a marketing disaster.

In the late 1950s, the Ford Motor Company developed a car which they expected to make major inroads against General Motors and Chrysler.

It was named in honor of Edsel B. Ford, son of the company's founder, Henry Ford. The company poured millions of dollars into the car's development and Ford truly believed it had a winner, but instead it became an abject marketing failure.


At the time, Ford boasted that the product development, research work and planning in the design of the car had been superior to anything seen thus far in the automobile industry.

The company added that the details of its styling and specifications were the result of a sophisticated market analysis and research and development effort that would essentially guarantee its broad acceptance by the buying public when the car was introduced.

Months prior to the launch, Ford ran extensive teaser ads. "The Edsel is Coming” they screamed. But nobody could see this mystery car, just a glimpse of a hood ornament. Anyone involved with the Edsel was sworn to secrecy.

All the hype brought a curious public in record numbers to see its unveiling on “E-day” on September 4, 1957. And then they left without buying.

It didn’t sell because essentially it was a bad car - it just didn’t live up to the expectations the company had created.

The name Edsel did not resonate well with the car-buying public. People associated the Edsel with “pretzel”, "weasel” and “dead cell.” And the design was considered by many to be weird.

Added to these issues there was a recession in the United States at the time and Ford offered its most expensive Edsel models first while other car makers were discounting last year's models.

Although it had some great innovations for its time such as a "rolling dome" speedometer and ergonomically designed controls for the driver and self-adjusting brakes, the Edsel was plagued with shoddy workmanship.

Incredibly, many of the vehicles showed up at showrooms with notes attached to the steering wheel listing the parts not installed. A far cry from the high quality of Ford products today.

Many car buyers were confused by the bewildering array of Edsel models on sale. The car's two basic chassis/drivelines were for four separate series—Ranger, Pacer, Corsair and Citation— spread over 18 different models.

Motoring writers were initially enthusiastic, but turned against the Edsel when they saw the public's negative reaction. Sales for the first year were a disappointing 64,000 units—a long way from sales of more than 200,000 units expected by Ford.

Ford hurried to make the 1959 Edsel more buyer-friendly and to give it a more distinct market niche. It now was based only on the Ford chassis and body shell.

Styling, especially the front-end look, was more conservative. Pacer and Citation models were dropped, and only one wheelbase was offered. Even a six-cylinder engine was available to attract the growing number of fuel-conscious car buyers.

But it was too late. People who by-passed the Edsel in 1958 weren't about to buy it in 1959, when only 44,891 Edsels were built as people turned to more-established marques.

Only 2,846 Edsels, including just 76 convertibles, were built in 1960 before production ended. The last model was only a mildly restyled Ford, with a conventional grille.

Total loss on the Edsel adventure for Ford was $350-million equivalent to a staggering $3 billion today.

But more than 50 years after its spectacular failure, the Edsel has become a highly collectible item. Fewer than 10,000 Edsels survive and they are considered valuable collectors’ items. A mint-condition Edsel convertible from any of its three model years will set you back around $100,000.

I am not aware if there are any Edsels in the Philippines, but if you know of one please let me know.

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on July 02, 2014.


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