Muscle Cars

The Ford Edsel: Learn From Your Mistakes

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By Mark Weisseg

By now I hope most of us know the story of the failed Ford Edsel. Some called it ugly back in the day while others called it ahead of its time. It’s an opinion that will continue forever. But, what did we learn from this issue back in the very late 50’s?

Well, we hope Ford Motor Company learned a lesson in designing and building what people want rather than shoving a product onto someone. There has been many, many huge flops over the years from well respected companies. It’s part of being in business. If a company never had a failure they would never learn or grow the business. Failure is good at times as it forces everyone involved to stop, take a breath, analyze what went wrong and do better the next time. Some, never learn. The ones that never learn are usually out of business at some point.

Just take a moment please to reflect on how many companies that were well respected large companies that have gone belly up in your life time. I never thought TWA, or Pan Am airlines would go away. Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Studebaker, Packard, AMC, Plymouth, and Mercury would be gone. Certainly there is always winners and losers in every game but in our hobby the costs are terrifically high if a model fails.
Just take one model like the Pontiac Ventura. A bad car and when you make several bad cars in a row the chances are something far worse will happen and it did. Attrition is part of the real world but you need to ask yourself how some winners seem to keep on winning.
Look at Cadillac. It was known as a old man’s car and the quality started slipping in the 80’s. The sales were falling and the cars were just not that good. But, GM and Caddy figure if they did not make a big chance and change the business model they too would go the way of many before them. So, they radically changed there old man image to a hip, younger set and watched the sales climb up. The competition is brutal in the market in which they compete but, they have come out on the other side. The trick for them and all car companies is to keep that edge.

I watched a TV show with Ed Welborn, the big fish at GM for styling and such. His story is such a good one. He stated he wrote GM when he was eight years old asking what it would take to work there in the future, designing cars. Someone of value answered the young boys letter and Mr. Welborn worked and educated himself to take the very difficult position he has today. That is to make sure GM designs and builds cars and trucks we all want to buy now and in the future. He is a guy I would love to meet as he appears to be passionate about what he does and how he does it. He knows if they screw up they will get another chance with consumers but if they continue to put out bad products the competition will eat them alive. It’s the car business and it’s always been that way.

So, again what do you think Ford learned from this Edsel? Clearly after this issue there were other turkeys designed and built but they learned from those mistakes as well. All of the car companies today battle everyday for your money. The cars are so remarkably good today it’s hard to find a bad one. Even base model cars is of great quality. I have rented, leased and owned a lot of cars over the years and I will state without any hesitation that the vehicles built today are top notch. Not that they don’t have an issue here or there but generally those issues arise from vendor quality not the car company. The car companies have to rely on vendors to design and build quality products that meet or exceed the OEM specs. Sometimes the vendor fails and the car company takes all the blame.

So, goodbye Edsel and the past troubles and hello to a new automotive world that will never get lazy again.

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