Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Its elegance, its engines,...

...its exciting new features, 
make other cars seem ordinary.

That's how Ford tried to advertise the Edsel. On Sept. 4, 1957 the first Edsels rolled off of the Ford assembly lines amid considerable publicity on what Ford called "E Day"! It was also promoted on a top television show, "The Edsel Show", but no marketing hype or campaign could overcome the buying public 's negative reaction to the Edsel's styling or design.

The Edsel offered several new features, including its rolling dome speedometer, low oil level and high engine temperature warning lights, and Push-button teletouch transmission shifting button in the center of the steering column. Advertised as a "revolutionary new concept", the Edsel actually shared several design and body features common with other Ford models, and which were apparent when seeing the cars in person. Other Edsel design innovations included ergonomically designed instruments and controls, child-proof rear door locks which could only be opened with a key, seat belts, and self adjusting brakes (claimed by Ford to be the first of their kind, but which actual were perfected in earlier Studebaker models).

Despite the hype, the innovation, and the strong marketing campaign, the Edsel was a flop. In its first year, 63,110 Edsels sold in the US, making it the second most successful initial vehicle launch, even though it was far short of Ford's expectations. 4935 models also were sold in Canada.

In the 1959 model year, 44,891 Edsels sold in the US, and 2505 were sold in Canada. In 1960, the last year of the Edsel, only 2846 units were made. Total Edsel sales were right around 116,000 which was half of Ford's projected "break-even" number, the number required to turn a profit. Ford lost $350 million on the project, or nearly $2.7 billion in today's dollars.

Why didn't the Edsel sell? Was it the design claimed to be radically new, but actually evident in other Ford models? Was it the revolutionary new features advertised but actually already in use by other manufacturers? No one seems to know for sure, but today fewer than 10,000 Edsels are thought to survive. Mint and rare specimens can bring over $100,000 on the collector market. Obviously the morbid curiosity with "Ford's flop" continues. We may never understand why, but the Edsel mystique continues to inspire curiosity.

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