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Blunder Buses: Ford Edsel

2 months ago

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Richard Bremner | Journalist


26 February 2024

The Whiz Kids. A $3 billion business failure whose name became a synonym for the world’s worst product launch. The dire decision-making that followed from lapping tides of hubris, jealousy, intransigence, empire-building, side-lining and more. A cache of some of the most literary memos the motor industry has ever seen. A PR campaign that over-promised and under-delivered. And an unsettlingly troubled radiator grille born out of perspective-free committee meddling.

Welcome to the world of Edsel. This is a car from before my time and almost certainly yours too, a car that looks as relevant to today’s automotive landscape as a steam engine does to Network Rail. But the human story behind the Edsel still resonates, because humans and their behaviours haven’t changed.

The point of the Edsel was this. In the mid-1950s, Ford had ‘only’ its native marque name, plus Lincoln, a luxury range that Henry Ford’s son Edsel had managed to persuade his stubborn father to buy, and Mercury, a newer brand to sit between the two. There was, however, a large $700 gap between the price of the most expensive $2400 Mercury and the least expensive $3100 Lincoln. What was needed, Ford management reckoned, was a new mid-market car to enable them to properly compete with General Motors and its constellation of five ascending marques – Chevrolet, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick and Cadillac – each with apparently quite different looks, each appealing to different sets of customers.

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