Those Rare 1954-55 Edsel Prototypes

In 1957, Ford Motors released a 30min video to it’s dealerships detailing Ford’s business plans to capture a larger share of the medium priced market from GM. From 1948-1957, Ford was greatly concerned that GM was able to capture about 50% of all of their sales from medium priced cars from Pontiac, Buick, Oldsmobile, from upwardly mobile buyers looking for cars better than a mere family car, bread and butter Chevrolet. Ford ‘s sales had reflected only 20% market sales of medium or higher priced cars, compared to a 80% in the more economical price range. So many sales in the economy price range and not in higher priced cars was very hurtful to Ford’s bottom line as profits tended to be much lower with lower priced cars. This was a financial box that Ford wanted to break loose from. Ford’s plan was to market a series of medium priced cars, the first of which was called the E-car. From 1954-1955 an interesting series of clay models and rolling chassis prototype cars became a type of early predictor for the styling trends sought for the future 1958 Edsel models which would debut in 1957.  Unfortunately, Ford ran into sales problems almost immediately with the Edsel, including problems with a contest meant to name the car, as well as poor sales, and comedian jokes about the car’s grille they compared to a horse collar.  Even at the big September 1957 event meant to introduce the brand new Edsel automobiles, Ford CEO Robert McNamara was overheard to tell some other executives that he actually had plans to phase out the car. That’s incredible! As a new car line was being introduced, the company CEO had such a poor commitment to the product, that he actually wanted to end it.  But, McNamara was known as a cost conscious CEO, greatly worried that the Edsel may have swallowed up as much as $250 million in lost development costs by 1958. A massive figure in 1950’s dollars, if completely true.  The project seemed to take forever as well, starting in 1948 as a business philosophy project, only finally resulting in some model prototypes by July and August 1955, with the actual 1958 production cars pretty much updated designs based on existing Ford and Mercury platforms to save money.

Ford’s bad experience with the Edsel stands as one of the greatest business failure stories of all time. The cars took way too long to develop and bring to the marketplace and cost way too much to produce, resulting in way too low of sales.  If anything, an entire business textbook can be written on all of the ways in which the Edsel failed for Ford. The only portion of some success for the Edsel, was the Mercury Comet, which was actually going to be the Edsel Comet, but Ford restyled the car as a small Mercury to compete in the compact car market as Ford decided to pull the plug on the Edsel brand by November of 1959, when the new 1960 models recorded the worst sales ever for the car brand between September to November of 1959, not even making it until January of that year.

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