The Edsel Automobile

Sometimes in life, a failure can be the catalyst that puts you where God wants you to be. In my personal life that is exactly what happened when I failed miserably with the restaurants back in late 80’s. It was because of that failure that opened the door to hotel brokerage. The guy I bought the restaurants from also sold hotels and he felt so bad for me over the restaurants, he showed me how to sell hotels. That was the thing that kept me and my family from bankruptcy and losing everything we had.

Many people view a failure as the reason to not try anymore and a small percentage of people view failure as the perspective needed to get where they are supposed to be.

One of the most interesting corporate stories of failure is Ford Motor Company’s launch of the Edsel automobile brand in 1958. The actual story is long but I will try and keep it brief.

In the early 50’s the board of directors at Ford wanted to create a new automobile brand that was separate from Lincoln and Mercury.  Not just a Ford nameplate, but a whole new brand like Buick or Chrysler. They leveraged the entire future of Ford Motor Company.  Ford ordered massive market studies and consumer interviews to determine the look, function, feel and name of a new automobile brand that would resonate with the public. By 1955 the board voted to name the new automobile brand after Henry Ford’s son’s name, Edsel who was the president of Ford from 1919 till his death in 1943. They began to build the assemble plants and develop dealers to sell the Edsel and the first cars were finally brought to market for 1958 the year. This launch was reported to be the most expensive automobile launch in automotive history. They spend 350 million on launching the Edsel brand and in today’s dollars that would be 2.9 billion. Ford brought on 1200 new Edsel dealers across the country that built new showrooms and sales facilities and Ford was finally ready to unveil the new car to the public. It was an extravaganza like never seen before in the automotive industry.

They launched the car for the 1958 year and shut down production in 1960. Three years! As it turned out, they brought a car to market that was what the public said they wanted in 1955, not 1958. It turned out to be the ugliest car on the road and the front grill looked like a horse collar. Buyers would walk in the showroom and take one look at the Edsel and go across the street and order a new Chevrolet, Buick, Oldsmobile or Ford. It was a disaster. The car was longer and wider than most every other car on the road and sales were just a fraction of Ford’s expectations. The cars leaked, sputtered, rattled, broke down and felt like you were driving a boat.

It was the worst financial failure of Ford Motor Company’s history to this day. Shareholders, competitors and many economists thought that Ford had failed so badly that they may go out of business.

Well, Ford licked their wounds and came out with the Ford Falcon in 1960, Galaxie Victoria in 1961, the restyled Thunderbird in 1961 and of course the Mustang in 1964 that forever changed the automotive world.

So, what is the main point? This is it.  Sometimes, failure is just failure. Other times failure is the key to you finding what you should really be doing. KT

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