Can I Get a Witness: Edsel’s Flop and Its Lessons
One of the most notorious flops in U.S product development history was the Edsel, which Ford Motor Co. made from 1957 to 1959. The Edsel was conceived to capture a greater share of the expanding medium-price-range car market at a time of growing prosperity in America. What could go wrong? Almost everything. as chronicled in one chapter of a book by John Brooks titled Business Adventures (a reported favorite of Warren Buffet and Bill Gates). Ford gave “slavish adherence” to public opinion polls and motivational research to develop a car that would stand apart from competitors and budgeted loads of money to market it. In the end, polls and money had no effect on the car, which never caught on with the public and whose initial versions had numerous mechanical problems. Data gathered by Brooks show the extent on the Edsel’s failure. It is a good lesson for new college graduates and others who may one day guide product development teams working on what their companies hope will be the next big thing.
Ford’s pre-launch expenditure on the Edsel. ($2.7 billion in 2022.)
Ford’s net loss on the Edsel. ($3.8 billion in 2022.)
First year vehicle sales goals.
Total U.S. Edsel sales, 1957-59. (<1% of car market in that period.)
Styling decisions made during development.
What the sons of former Ford president Edsel Ford replied when asked if the car could be named after him.
Development name of the Edsel. (“Experimental Car.”)
Number of names ad agency Foote, Cone & Belding developed for the E-Car.
Number of names on list after FC&B whittled it down.
Number of names in FC&B’s final paring.
Number of FC&B names Ford accepted.
Name selected in a no-nonsense meeting of Ford Executive Board.
September 4, 1957
Edsel goes on sale.
People who viewed the car in U.S. showrooms in September 4.
January 14, 1958
Ford consolidates Edsel Division in Lincoln-Mercury Division.
November 19, 1959
Ford halts Edsel production.
Intelligent Bullet, Utopian Turtletop, Mongoose Civique, Andante con Moto
E-Car names poet Marianne Moore suggested at behest of Ford executives. (None accepted.)