The Motor City’s most spectacular and fascinating blunder, the Edsel became a case study in corporate failure. This rare promotional film reveals some of the marketing strategy behind the disaster. Great car lore, watch.
(Note: At Mac’s Motor City Garage, we’re permanently intrigued with the Edsel story. Check out our other features, including the 1958-1960 Edsel Spotter’s Guide, a road test featuring Tom McCahill, and a product introduction by none other than Henry Ford II.)
Introduced with tremendous fanfare by the Ford Motor Co. on September 4, 1957, the Edsel was, as much as anything, a high-level marketing exercise. This original promotional clip reveals some of the market strategy behind the E-car, as it was known internally—and inadvertently, it also shows where everything went wrong.
Product planners intended the Edsel to slot in above Ford and below Mercury in the company’s vertical model hierarchy. But in fact, there was less than a $125 price gap between the top-of-the-line Ford Fairlane 500 ($2,598) and the base Mercury Monterey ($2,721). However, at the 1:10 mark in the video below, note that no fewer than four separate Edsel models are introduced—Pacer, Ranger, Citation, Corsair—and in two wheelbases and 18 different body styles, including hardtops and sedans, convertibles, and two and four-door wagons. It was a castle in the air. A sprawling range of models and trim levels had been developed for a price segment that didn’t really exist.
All too aware of the lack of an economic case for their new product, the E-car team worked overtime to differentiate the Edsel from the rest of Ford’s offerings, with bold and distinctive design and novel technical features including Teletouch push-button automatic transmission. But alas, consumers failed to warm up to the unusual styling, from the horseshoe grille to the boomerang tail lamps. Meanwhile, the new mechanical features developed a reputation for being bug-ridden and troublesome. By introduction day, senior Ford executives were already smelling disaster, though the company was still wearing a brave face in public, as the video shows. Enjoy.