A Close Look At What Led To The Shutdown of The Edsel Brand

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We always love it when we pull into a local car show and spot a rare Edsel. Named after Henry Ford’s son Edsel B. Ford, the Edsel was suppose to be Ford’s solution for the marked domination of GM and Chrysler. However, after three production years in ’58, ’59 and ’60. It was abruptly shutdown. So what happened? Why was this wildly awesome car kicked to the curb?

The folks at TIME recently brought up the famous flop and explained it in depth. To start, research and planning took 10 years and cost Ford $250 million. Their spending meant that it was going to have to explode and outsell all other cars in 1957 just to be profitable. Sort of doomed from the beginning. But, with 18 models to choose from and what some deemed “the right personality” this looked like a win for Ford and the family purchasing the Edsel. Sadly, before the first year was up, the sales had dropped by about a third.

AR0612-129614_1So what led to the demise? The TIME report details what was just a combination of bad timing, bad luck, and poor market research for Ford,

“After the decision was made in 1955, Ford ran more studies to make sure the new car had precisely the right “personality.” Research showed that Mercury buyers were generally young and hot-rod-inclined, while Pontiac, Dodge and Buick appealed to middle-aged people. Edsel was to strike a happy medium. As one researcher said, it would be “the smart car for the younger executive or professional family on its way up.” To get this image across, Ford even went to the trouble of putting out a 60-page memo on the procedural steps in the selection of an advertising agency, turned down 19 applicants before choosing Manhattan’s Foote, Cone & Belding. Total cost of research, design, tooling, expansion of production facilities: $250 million.

A Taste of Lemon. The flaw in all the research was that by 1957, when Edsel appeared, the bloom was gone from the medium-priced field, and a new boom was starting in the compact field, an area the Edsel research had overlooked completely.”

Its a story that played out with numerous brands in the early automotive days. A changing and aging demographic ultimately led to the shutdown of a wildly unique and cool car. Ultimately, it’s a battle that automakers still have to wage even this day. They have to stay on top of what cars the consumer finds appealing. 250 million sounds like a lot (especially for the 1950’s), but it pales in comparison when a new car is launched today.

But still being able to see these today always brings a smile to our face. They are still sought after by collectors and aficionados alike, and when you catch one in the wild, it’s easy to see why.

 

About the author

John Gibson

John has been around dirt track racing his entire life. In fact, he was almost born at Monett Speedway in Monett, Missouri. He has raced everything on dirt and asphalt from karts, to Indy cars, to 650 horsepower stock cars in the USAR Pro Cup where he currently races.
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