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Why Was The Ford Edsel Such a Failure?

By 1950, Chevrolet had built a grip on the top spot as America's best-selling automotive brand. Chevrolet sold one million more vehicles than Ford, the runner-up. On the other hand, General Motors took the next three spots in the top five in that same year. In the mid-1950s, Ford Motor Company decided to add another automotive line to compete with General Motors. Since 1908, when it merged with the Oldsmobile Motor Company, General Motors Corp had developed into six independent divisions. Ford would employ a similar tactic to expand its market share. Edsel Bryant Ford, the company's founder Henry Ford's only son, would be the name of the new car line. During spring in 1957, Ford launched a hugely effective advertising campaign that capitalized on the human desire to know more. "The Edsel is Coming," read the first commercials on the airwaves.

The mysterious car, however, was invisible. The sight of it piqued people's interest. They gradually allowed a hazy glimpse of the vehicle's shadow as well as the hood ornament as the campaign advanced. Anyone connected with the Edsel was pledged to secrecy, promising not to say anything about what was billed as a revolutionary new automobile. According to Liveabout, dealers were supposed to store the Edsel covertly, and if the automobiles were seen before the release date, they would be penalized or lose their franchise. The hooplas drew a record-breaking crowd to see it unveiled on September 4th, the “E-day,” in 1957. They then left without purchasing anything. In this article, we have highlighted some of the main reasons that led to the failure of Ford Edsel.

The beginning of Ford Edsel faliure

Ford Edsel was not purchased since it was a lousy or unsightly car. People did not purchase the vehicle since it did not measure up to the lofty expectations set by the company's spectacular advertising effort in the preceding months. So the Ford Edsel's first failure occurred before anyone had even seen the vehicle. Those who did purchase an Edsel discovered that it was plagued by substandard construction. Various automobiles that arrived at the dealership had notes on the steering wheel indicating the manufacturer's parts had not been installed.

Discord in the workplace

Based on early 1950s market research and a strong US economy, Ford's executive vice president, Ernest Breech, effectively Edsel's father, persuaded the company's top management that premium midsize cars would thrive. Chairman Henry Ford II was wary of jeopardizing his father's reputation with a vehicle that ventured into uncharted territory, but the Edsel label was approved while he was away. According to Motorcities, Robert McNamara, who was in charge of keeping the company on track financially, advised against having various sales divisions, as well as the mechanical differences between the Edsel and the new vehicle's an advertising and promotion budget. He was the first to advocate pulling the plug when the E vehicle did not fly to minimize more losses. Unfortunately, the great Lee Iacocca was preoccupied with something else. The Ford Edsel scheme would have performed better if he had supplied his keen knowledge of client demands and needs.

Its design

The vertical grille feature of the new For Edsel was meant to be far slimmer than it was in production. This was according to Edsel design leader Roy Brown. Engineers increased the size of his grille, claiming that the original design did not provide the radiator with enough cooling air. People began calling it the horse collar, a toilet seat, and an Oldsmobile sucking a lemon due to the resulting design. The manufacturer replaced the vertical grille with a horizontal pattern for the third model year, which ironically resembled a 1959 Pontiac.

Poor timing

The introduction of Ford's nascent automobile could not have come at a worse moment. A recession hit the United States in the fall of 1957, causing car sales to plummet. Desoto sales were down 54% from the previous year. Mercury sales were down 48%; Dodge sales were down 47%; Buick sales were down 33%; Pontiac sales were down 28%, and so on. Ford pondered launching the vehicle in June rather than September but ultimately opted against it. As a result, the company only sold 63,000 Ford Edsels in the first year of its launch. The recession was largely to blame for Edsel's dismal sales, while the American Motors Rambler, a different car, sold more than 100,000 that year and double that the following year. The market accepted the Rambler positively compared to the Ford Edsel’s. With the Edsel, Ford made yet another blunder. The stylish, mid-priced Ford Fairlane had debuted in 1956, undercutting Edsel's market category. Many automobile purchasers who sought a Ford considered the Fairlane a better value than the Edsel because it cost less.

To decrease costs, Ford consolidated the Edsel and Lincoln-Mercury divisions, reduced the number of available models, added a six-cylinder engine, and changed the appearance slightly for 1959. For 1960, plans were already in the works to update Edsel's appearance. In 1959, just about 45,000 Edsels were sold. Ford Edsel is a classic case of corporate arrogance and disrespect for market reality. It also shows that advertising and pre-delivery excitement can only go so far in persuading people to buy a new, unproven car. The success or failure of an automobile is determined in a free market economy by the car-buying public, not by the manufacturer. If a car company oversells a new model, consumers will have false expectations. If the newly launched car fails to meet expectations, it is condemned to fail on the showroom floor. Edsel taught Ford that it could not tell people what to buy. Since then, it has not made another blunder. Ford introduced the Mustang, a brand-new, sporty, cheap car that Americans quickly welcomed, some years after the Edsel was discontinued. Ford recently introduced the Taurus, which was designed in response to automobile buyers' demands and desires and has proven to be a huge commercial success. On the other hand, the Edsel will continue to be an oddity in the automotive world, the solution to a question that no one asked.

Benjamin Smith

Written by Benjamin Smith

Benjamin Smith is one of the managing editors of Moneyinc. Ben's been focusing on the auto and motorcycle sector since 2005. He's written over 1000 articles in the space and continues to learn about it each day. His favorite car is "any Bugatti" and he's a die hard Harley Davidson fan.

Read more posts by Benjamin Smith

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