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The Flop of the Edsel.

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series The Biggest Product Flops in History

The Edsel Ranger Four-Door Hardtop

The Edsel Ranger Four-Door Hardtop: the result of an ambitious attempt by one of America’s largest automobile manufacturers to overtake its German competitors.

The car came out in 1957, and the company withdrew the product from the market within just three years! With its awkward, flat front fascia and round taillights, the Edsel Ranger is an automobile that appears to have driven straight off the pages of a comic book. Its bizarre, almost cartoon-like styling was just one of many reasons the car failed in the market.

We have got to give it to Henry Ford, who built one of the biggest companies in the world. When his son, Edsel, took over, it was only a matter of time until he made mistakes. Edsel was supposed to take the company to new heights. However, his lacklustre performance as president would end up being a major disappointment for his famous perfectionist father. But it wasn’t entirely his fault.

Edsel was well-liked by employees and had been the driving force behind some of the automakers most essential products. After Edsel died in 1943, the company decided to put his name on a new model; unfortunately, that product ultimately became its best-known failure.

It all started when Ford and Mercury became the company’s two mainstream nameplates. This didn’t bode well when their rivals GM and Chrysler had four- giving them models for which Ford didn’t have a direct competitor.

Ford originally planned Edsel as two separate lines within the brand:

  1. A smaller car that would fit between Ford and Mercury
  2. A larger car between Mercury and Lincoln.

In the end, the car did indeed come in two sizes; however, the distinction didn’t exactly play out the way the company had intended. The difference was minimal!

When Ford introduced the Edsel in 1958, the target market was appalled by its odd styling, poor quality, and sharp economic downturn in the US.

Interestingly, the name wasn’t the companies first choice. A few other names which hit the top 10 were Intelligent Bullet and Utopian Turtletop. Up against these, it’s Edsel all the way! The advertising agency and poet Marianne Moore came up with potential product names, and over 18,000 were generated. Eventually, they put on their serious hats, and the names were whittled down to a few:

  • Ranger
  • Citation
  • Corsair
  • Pacer

The brand’s primary name was rejected for all these names. Finally, the board chairman suggested Edsel and Henry Ford II. the eldest son of the late Edsel agreed to this. However, the Ford family were reluctant, and the company’s public relations director warned that such an unusual name would probably turn many potential buyers away.

Then someone spotted the first flaw. The original concept sketches were not quite as good as the final design. When an improved drawing was released with its solid front end and hidden vents, it was found that it wouldn’t supply enough air to cool the engine.

Putting its grille to one side, and although it may be a stretch to say that the Edsel kick-starter is a styling trend, many automakers did follow suit. It was one of the few cars without upright tailfins in its day, and after 1959, many automakers started to tone theirs down.

For 1959, Edsel’s complete front end was chrome, and it sported two hood ornaments. Horsepower was 303 and 345, respectively, in the overly optimistic measuring methods of the day.

The line-up’s prices ranged from $2,484 to $3,766.

Options included:

  • Power Steering
  • Air conditioning
  • Seat belts
  • And on the larger models, a driver-activated automatic chassis lubrication system.

Cars with automatic transmissions used a pushbutton gear selector in the middle of the steering wheel.

Bing Crosby, one of the top stars, along with Rosemary Clooney, Louis Armstrong, and Frank Sinatra, were all present for the much-awaited national launch. It was during a television special. And each of the guests named above received an Edsel. The myth has it that when Clooney opened her door, the handle became detached! The quality of the car was a significant issue during Edsel’s first year.

Ford built the Louisville Assembly Plant across six plants alongside Ford or Mercury vehicles, and the lines were sped up to assist the extra production. Workers had to switch tasks when one arrived, usually, every tenth car, which resulted in many mistakes.

In 1960, when the restyled Edsel was built on Ford’s all-new design, Edsel set a record for pre-production orders, with customers placing 4,000 on the first day! Unfortunately, the record didn’t last very long! Partly for reasons beyond Ford’s control, the recession hit.

In August 1957, during the recession, US car sales dipped by 31.4% throughout 1958. Dealers were already giving serious discounts on in-stock Fords as the pricier Edsel started arriving in showrooms. Customers who did have money were not prepared to spend it on an odd-looking model with doubtful quality.

In 1959, the car’s quality improved, but sales still dropped by 29% from the year before.

The 1960 model year saw the release of only the Ranger and the Villager. Ford’s full-size models had all-new styling, and that’s what the Edsel used, with different trim and a split grille that made it look like a Pontiac.

And then comes the flop- on November 19, 1959, three years to the day that Henry Ford II had first announced the Edsel, the car company officially cancelled the car.

Ford had initially forecast selling 200,000 Edsel’s a year, but the final tally came to just 110,847 over three.

While the project’s cost was never disclosed, it is estimated that the company lost $250 to $350 million on the project. While it may have done better under different circumstances, the Edsel that was supposed to be Ford’s ultimate achievement was fundamentally the wrong car at the wrong time.

Series NavigationCoca-Cola’s Failure That Taught The World >>

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