September 4, 1957: Inside Ford's Failed Launch of the Edsel

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On September 4, 1957, Ford  (F) - Get Report released Edsel to the public. “E Day” was highly anticipated at the time -- indeed, the auto industry was supposed to be changed forever. However, little did Ford’s marketers know that they would be giving America a signature lesson in over-marketing and under-delivering.

After Ford became publicly traded in 1956, it looked to create a new car that would surpass even the Lincoln in sales. Created to compete with General Motors' Oldsmobile, “Project E” was meant to be a whole new division within Ford.

The car was named "Edsel" in honor of Edsel Ford, former company president and son of Henry Ford.

Ford premiered 18 variations of the car that ranged from a $2,700 Pacer model to a $3,700 Citation model.

The Edsel vehicles offered several innovations, such as a rolling-dome speedometer, low oil level and engine overheating warnings, child-proof rear door locks and seat belts.

68,000 Edsels were sold in North America in its first year. However, the number dripped dramatically the next year with only 47,396 sales.

A recession that began in 1956 and the public’s dislike of the car design contributed to consumer blowback. The Edsel division was terminated only 26 months after its debut.

Ford would end up losing $350 million ($3.1 billion today) due the Edsel division's failure.

Today, fewer than 10,000 Edsels survive and they are considered valuable collectors' items -- a mint specimen can cost over $100,000.

To this day, marketing experts hold Edsels up as an example of corporate culture placing its predicted "perfect" product over what the American consumer actually wants.

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