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The Edsel – A Legacy of Failure


The Edsel – A Legacy of Failure

"Those who ignore the past are doomed to repeat it," warned philosopher George Santayana. Ford, are you listening?

Ford Motor Company decided it needed another car line to compete against General Motors and in the spring of 1957, they began what was thought to be a highly successful ad campaign, "The Edsel is Coming”. But nobody could see this mystery car, just a glimpse of a hood ornament. Anyone involved with the Edsel was sworn to secrecy not to leak a word about what was being claimed to be a radically new and innovative motor car.

Dealers were required to store the Edsel undercover and would be fined or lose their franchise if they showed the cars before the release date. All the hype brought a curious public in record numbers to see its unveiling on “E-day” September 4, 1957. And then they left without buying.

Car buyers didn’t purchase the Edsel because it was a bad car, it was just that it didn’t live up to the expectations that the company created in the prior months. This was their first failure.

The Edsel actually had some great innovations for its time such as a "rolling dome" speedometer and its “Teletouch” transmission shifting system in the center of the steering wheel. Other design innovations included ergonomically designed controls for the driver and self-adjusting brakes.

In addition to the car not living up to the marketing hype, the United States was in a recession and Edsel offered its most expensive models first while other car makers were discounting last years models. This was their second failure.

And for those who did buy an Edsel found that the car was plagued with shoddy workmanship. Many of the vehicles that showed up at the dealer showroom had notes attached to the steering wheel listing the parts not installed.

Ford launched the Edsel as a brand-new division, but they didn’t give the car line its own manufacturing facility. Edsel relied on Ford to produce their cars and Ford workers resented assembling "someone else's" vehicle and took little pride in their work. Not having a dedicated work force to build their cars was Edsel’s third and biggest failure.

The Edsel’s quality control issues were compounded by Ford’s mechanics and their unfamiliarity with the car’s state-of-the-art technology. The biggest problem was its automatic “Tele-touch” transmission, whereby the driver selected the gears by pushing buttons on the center of the steering wheel. It was a complicated system that the mechanics didn’t know how to fix – failure number four.

With Ford wanting Edsel to be a separate division, they made sure there was nothing that tied this car line to Ford. The word Ford couldn’t be found anywhere on the car. That was failure number five because without an established customer base, like Ford, it’s no surprise Edsel sold only 64,000 units in its first year.

One thing that comes to our mind about what might have been the proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back” is the car’s name. Yes, it was named after the first child of Ford’s founder Henry and his wife Clara, Edsel Bryant, but it’s just not a name that rolls off the tongue easily.

Frankly we love the look of the Edsel and feel that in a different economy, with a good support system, and an honest marketing plan, the Edsel would still be with us today rather than only lasting three years in production.

So we will say again, Ford, GM and Chrysler "those who ignore the past are doomed to repeat it.”

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