- Credit: Mecum

Ford Edsel - the costliest automotive mistake in history

Wrong data, wrong car, wrong timing or something else entirely?

Surveys don't lie . . mostly

Edsel was born as a separate brand, marketed by Ford Motor Company with one very serious objective - to gain more market share. It was named after Edsel Ford, son of Henry Ford, the founding father and it was another name to add into the existing network of sub-brands, along with Mercury and Lincoln in 1958.

Credit: Mecum

Credit: Mecum

The market back then was ruthless with brands like Buick, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Dodge, and DeSoto constantly gaining ground. To make the right decision about the next competitive step, Ford commissioned a team to survey the customer's needs. It's a standard practice even today, but Ford were regularly criticised of making incorrect surveys with their data correlating more towards the company's image, rather than the actual market demands.

Credit: Mecum

Credit: Mecum

Ford's executives would not allow to be influenced by critics and went ahead with the survey results. A starting line with seven models was introduced, including convertibles, estates and large family saloons. Offering luxury, technology and innovations, Ford had positioned the Edsel division high into the midrange segment. Teletouch, a unique feature at the time was offered as a groundbreaking innovation, putting the gearbox controls on the steering wheel hub, to give the Edsel individual personality.

Credit: Mecum

Credit: Mecum

So what exactly happened?

As Ford's executives found out later, the research group couldn't be bothered to make a survey with an actual group of potential customers, so they took the opinions internally, within Ford's own production circle. This meant the critics Ford had received over the years were well and truly founded, but this time the hit was staggering in both size and ferocity. This time, Ford seriously messed up!

Credit: Mecum

Credit: Mecum

And the external environment didn't help, because the US was hit by a recession, so the potential customers, mostly young families, had all moved on in the lower price bracket. To make matters worse, The whole Edsel range was positioned well within the price bracket of Mercury, which by now was well recognised and regarded as a bang-for-the-buck offering, so the internal competition was the one, doing the most damage to the young brand.

Credit: Mecum

Credit: Mecum

The price of failure

With 250 million dollars down the drain for two years, Ford were quick to end their Edsel adventure. But the damage was already done and Ford had another pill to swallow. Every Edsel owner, of which there weren't many, received coupons ($300-$400) towards buying another Ford vehicle, since parts for Edsel would become unavailable.

Credit: Mecum

Credit: Mecum

The company also had to issue credits to dealers for stock unsold or received following the announcement of discontinuing the Edsel. Dealers scrambled to minimise their losses by retracting ads from newspapers and dropping the name Edsel entirely. For those actions, dealerships required and got financial compensations from Ford, making the hit even costlier. With a large stock of unsold Edsels going back to Ford, the only solution was rebadging, which produced the Mercury Comet and the Mercury Meteor, with the former being a compact Edsel concept that couldn't make it to the market with the initially intended brand.

Credit: Mecum

Credit: Mecum

"Edsel" as a reference for failure

Experts are blaming many things for Edsel's failure, including but not limited to the design, the reliability, the powertrain and even the name. But whatever the reason, it costed Ford a total of $350 million ($3 billion in 2021) and bled the company dry in just two years. It was so painful that Ford employees started to use the name as a reference for failed models. They would literally call those "Edsels" and it wasn't pretty, although technically true.

Credit: Mecum

Credit: Mecum

Worse still, because it was the 20th century and memes weren't a thing, Vietnam decided to do some practical meme in the Ho Chi Minh Museum in Hanoi by featuring an Edsel crashing through a wall, intended to symbolically represent US military failure in the Vietnam War. This was intended solely to troll one particular person, who had some responsibility in both failures - Robert McNamara. After failing to impress with his work on the Edsel division, he became the US Secretary of Defence and oversaw the escalation of the US military presence in Vietnam.

Credit: Mecum

Credit: Mecum

Today there are a few memes about the Edsel - some are really good, but most would mean nothing to you, if you haven't seen an Edsel car in person. I'll publish a few in the gallery below for you to get the idea.

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Comments (7)

  • The styling, even for the era, is awkward. It's a collection of cliche's on wheels. There a fine line between clever and awkward design and Edsel danced all over it. It's a polarizing design.

    I'm going way out on a limb here, but the current Civic suffered from the same thing. The styling was exaggerated and, in places, awkward and chaotic.

      4 months ago
  • For the Panther fans out there (warning once you see it you can't unsee it):

    www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2018/08/rare-rides-2008-edsel-citation-a-tribute-via-victoria/

      4 months ago
  • I honestly quite like them. I can see why people might not liked the radical styling back in the day. But it is hard for me to pass up a 50s to early 60s car. Especially the huge wagons that they made like the Villager. Perhaps it's nostalgia to an era I never experienced but they look cool. The grill reminds me of a neon sign on the facade of a building like for movie theaters.

    They are definitely not common at car shows bit loved by the people who own them.

      4 months ago
  • Isn't that a BMW? I just looked at the grill

      4 months ago
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