from True's Automobile Yearbook
1958 Issue
Number 6

The brains behind America's newest car are not only sure they'll sell 200,000 automobiles this year- they even know who is going to buy them.

By Eugene Jaderquist

The Tucker automobile died before it ever got off the ground, the Kaiser flew at treetop level for a while before crashing. Nash, Packard, Studebaker and Hudson are currently struggling to stay aloft. The postwar world has not been a happy one for new makes and has been tough on some of the well-established ones. Nevertheless, the smart money both in and out of Detroit is solidly behind Ford's new Edsel. It's about as sure to succeed as a straight flush in a two-handed stud game. One prospective dealer went so far as to offer to invest $1 million if the Edsel division would give him four franchises.

Money, of course, is one of the reasons for this confidence in the Edsel. Before the first Edsel was publicly shown on September 4, the Ford Motor Company had already spent a quarter of a billion dollars on the project. The 1,200 dealers had pledged about $50 million for retail facilities. Not included in the above sums is the additional investment in the raw materials that are being used in the actual production of the car. Then, too, the Edsel is the first well-publicized product of the current Ford expansion program. This program, which has cost two-and-a-half billion dollars over the past two-and-a-half years has enlarged the central styling staff from 220 men in 1955 to 660 men today, made spectacular increases in the engineering staff, and added to production facilities to such an extent that Ford can meet any reasonable increases in sales in all its divisions.

To many observers the Edsel may not seem more notable than a Buick or a DeSoto or a Mercury. There are a few new gadgets - the pushbutton , servo-operated shifting mechanism in the center of the steering wheel is one - that haven't been seen before on American cars, but in all its basic elements the Edsel is an orthodox automobile. The two V-8 engines - the smaller on Ranger and Pacer models; the larger on Corsair and Citation lines - are powerful, fast and quiet but follow established V-8 designs.

The Edsel isn't being sold on the strength of its engineering features alone. It's the "Edsel program" that is the real story behind the new car, the feature that makes the Edsel different from all other cars at least for the 1958 model year. Not since the Plymouth was introduced in 1928 has any car been so frankly slanted at a specific competitive makes. Just as the Plymouth was designed to steal customers from Ford and Chevrolet, the Edsel is aimed directly at the Buick-Oldsmobile market. Edsel dealers will be glad to win sales from Pontiac or DeSoto or Dodge too, of course - but particularly from Buick and Oldsmobile.

No part of the Edsel planning has been so difficult as this selective designing. In the normal course of events, a product is naturally expected to compete with all similar products in its price group. How then, do you design a "package" as a car is called in Detroit, to compete particularly with two of many cars selling for the same price?

The job isn't done only with styling or engineering. All Detroit cars in any given price class are so close to each other in speed and acceleration that they can't be separated. Styling is a dead end, too. If the Edsel stylists had tried to copy Buick and Olds to compete, the cars would instantly have been tagged as copies and would have lost prestige immediately. (That unusual Edsel styling, incidentally, was developed for one reason only: to make damn sure the Edsel didn't look like any other car in any price group. Edsel executives figured there was more profit in being different during the first year of production. Subsequent years may see the Edsel return gradually to orthodox styling.)

To explain "selective designing" is to say that a car must be designed in such a way as to give a particular impression. Thus, the Edsel emulates Buick and Oldsmobile in its appeal and its feel. Reinforcing this, Edsel advertising will hammer at Buick and Oldsmobile customers. (The Edsel is for young families on the way up, young executives, etc.) These aren't just the 1958 Edsels we're talking about. The '59 models have already been locked up and the '60 models are going into the final stages of design. Further research is now being planned to help in designing the '61 and '62 models.

In the research already done, Edsel specialists have learned more about American car-buying habits than has ever been established before. The actual interviewing, and the subsequent analysis, was done by Columbia University's Bureau of Applied Social Research. The results were piped up to Ford brass through Dave Wallace, a former research expert, now the market research chief for the Edsel division. Interviews were concentrated in two cities, Peoria, Illinois, and San Bernadino, California. Some 1,600 car owners were interviewed in depth, each interview taking a minimum of one hour. The interviewers, and the men who performed the analysis, were all graduates working for higher degrees in the bureau. The Edsel division paid $50,000 for the job.

Eight automobiles in two price classes were studied. In the low price class, Ford, Chevrolet and Plymouth were the obvious choices; in the medium-price class, Mercury, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick and Dodge were chosen.

One of the questions related attitudes toward cars to attitudes toward corporations. It was found that some 88% of the respondents disliked General Motors because it was too big, but four out of five liked General Motors products. Most GM buyers, was the conclusion, buy their cars despite their queasy feeling about the world's greatest industrial corporation. Ford, no small outfit itself, gathered little of this anti-bigness enmity, Chrysler, none.

This information can't be used in advertising, but it can be disseminated through the dealer organization to the salesmen. It makes very effective talking at the dealer-customer level.


Email: smith@edsel.net