How the Edsel worked
By Marshall Brain
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | (MCT) On Sept. 4, 2007, we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of one of the most famous disasters in automotive history: the Edsel. Even 50 years later people still recognize the name Edsel and associate it with failure. What was it that happened 50 years ago to create such an enduring legacy? Let's find out.
If you could get in a time machine and travel back to the summer of 1957, one thing you would notice is a big ad campaign that had really captured the imagination of the American public. The Ford motor company had decided to create a brand new division and they were advertising the new cars heavily. Entirely new car divisions are not that common - the last one to happen in an American car company is the Saturn division from General Motors over two decades ago. The new Edsel division alone was enough to raise interest.
More importantly, the Edsel division of the Ford Motor company was going to be something special. The cars would be new, exciting. The ad campaign teased people by showing them nothing about this new line of cars. In an ad you might see a hood ornament, or a car under a tarp. And the ad campaign worked. People were very excited and very curious about the new line of Edsel cars coming out.
Sept. 4, 1957, was the unveiling. People could go to the new Edsel dealership in their neighborhood to see the new car. And people did go in droves. The problem was, nobody was buying. That was the beginning of the end for the Edsel.
It is hard for us today to understand how this could have happened. How could an ad campaign work so well, while yielding no buyers? One thing we might compare it to was the launch of the Segway six years ago. Remember the AMAZING amount of hype that surrounded the Segway? The Segway was going to change the world, but no one knew what the Segway was. Then, on the day of announcement, we all saw that the Segway was a scooter. Sure it was a self-balancing scooter and that was cool. But there was no way the Segway could match the hype that preceded it, and everyone was disappointed. That is exactly the kind of thing that happened to the Edsel.
The Edsel did have some interesting features, but each one was a little kooky. The look of the car was definitely unique, with a huge grill shaped like the letter "O". And the automatic transmission was controlled by buttons located in the center of the steering wheel. But it was just kooky enough to turn people off rather than to turn them on. Also, people were expecting something completely new, while in reality the Edsels were built on top of an existing Ford chassis. That was not very exciting to people.
The Edsel also had manufacturing problems. Lots of them. Ford decided that it would not build dedicated Edsel factories. Instead, Edsels were put together on normal Ford and Mercury assembly lines at the end of the day. The problem was, switching over from one car line to another did not work very well, and Edsels would often have the wrong parts, or things would not be adjusted right. Some people said that Edsel stood for "Every Day Something Else Leaks." Once consumers get the impression that a car has quality problems, it is very hard to shake that feeling.
By the Edsel's third model year Ford was ready to throw in the towel. At that point the company had spent over $2 billion (in today's dollars) on a car division that completely disappeared.
People have all sorts of theories for why the Edsel was such a spectacular failure. Some blame the name. Some blame the styling of the car in its first year. Some blame the September launch date - the new model year typically was announced in November, so the Edsel looked expensive. Some blame the size of the car. Some blame timing - a big recession started at the end of 1957.
Maybe it was a combination of all these things, plus the Segway effect, the kookiness and the quality problems. Whatever it was, we now know that the Edsel did not work. Today we still honor this fact by making the word Edsel synonymous with failure.
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