Through previous studies during the Edsel planning period, and through the Michigan registration figures, Dave Wallace also knew that buyers tended to remain within the same corporation when they bought a new make of car. This was most spectacularly demonstrated in those cases where the buyers stepped up from a low-price make to a medium-price make. Some 80% of General Motors buyers went up from Chevrolet to Buick, Oldsmobile or Pontiac. But Ford owners on their way up, having only Mercury to choose from, went almost as eagerly to Buick, Oldsmobile and Pontiac.

With this already proven, the Edsel research teams went on to find how other influences acted on choice of make. They found that the car buyer is heavily influenced by his friends and co-workers. If most of his friends own medium-price cars, the individual tends to get one too. If most of them own Ford products, he'll probably get a Ford product, if there is one available that fits his budget.

This is where the Edsel comes in. Edsel prices will begin parallel with Ford Fairlane prices and will duplicate all but the top Mercury prices.

But the big problem was still the man who said, "I like Buick but I don't know why; I don't like Mercury but I don't know why." The Edsel brass had to have the answer to this unreasonable but powerful attitude of so many car buyers. Somewhere down below the conscious level of thinking, the American buyer had a set of prejudices and opinions that could make or break the new Edsel. These same ways of thinking that had already skyrocketed Buick and Oldsmobile into commanding positions in the market, were even then working to bring Dodge up to the top.

The direct question was out. Asking a man or woman why he or she liked Buick would bring no response that could be catalogued. So the researchers, all of them people who had spent years studying social reactions to ordinary situations, phrased the question indirectly. "Which car," they would ask, "might a younger person buy? An older person? A man? A woman?"

Since the respondent wasn't talking about himself, he could talk freely. Talk he did, and so was built up the first honest social study of automobiles.

The Ford and the Mercury, for example, turned out to be associated very strongly with young people. Nobody yet knows why, but there it is. With Ford this was all right, because car buyers in the low-price group are quite often young people, but with Mercury this was not good. Mercurys cost more money than the average young family can spend, and should be appealing to the older, better-off people. Here was a solid clue to the failure of the Mercury to keep up with Buick during the good years.

And here was a plain directive to the Edsel executives: slant the Edsel to keep out of the way of both the Ford Fairlane and the cheaper Mercurys or they'd be battling their own family.

At the same time the study showed that older people preferred Buick first, then Pontiac and Dodge and Oldsmobile. Oldsmobile actually hit the middle of the scale, equally chosen by young and old. To fight both Buick and Oldsmobile, the Edsel had to be slanted down the middle.

The man-woman identification was not as distinct except where Ford and Mercury were concerned. Both were at the masculine end of the scale. Actually, no competing cars went over to the feminine side (except Plymouth, which barely edged over) but all enjoyed more feminine admiration than Ford products. The Edsel division had a clear directive to make their new product at least as appealing to women as to men.

When the researchers asked "What makes might a working man buy? A well-to-do person?" the answers gave Ford, Chevrolet and Plymouth an almost even split but showed the Mercury at the "working-man" end of the scale. Oldsmobile and Buick were alone at the "well-to-do" end. Somwhow, not even Mercury knows how, Buick and Oldsmobile seem to have a corner on the medium-price, prestige-owner group. Here is their strength.

Amazed by this result, Edsel executives made it a point to observe how well this applied in specific cases. One of them said, in some wonder, "Next time you drive by a big construction job, count the number of Mercurys, Buicks and Oldsmobiles. The Mercurys almost always have it."

The clincher was in a big question on the same questionnaire. Respondents were given a list of seven occupations and asked to link those occupations with makes of cars, with specifically the eight makes of cars listed earlier: Ford, Chevrolet, and Plymouth in the low-price field; Buick, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Dodge and Mercury in the medium-price field. The occupations were: Doctor, lawyer, racer, clergyman, mechanic, rancher, dance band leader. The question was: "Which of these makes do you think might be most appropriate for a doctor? etc.?"

There were two things to look for. First, which makes evoked a positive response, that is, which drew a high number of associations with anything at all? The second was which makes were associated with which occupations. Obviously, some of the occupations carried more prestige than others, therefore certain makes of cars would carry more prestige than others.

Plymouth, Dodge and Pontiac drew few positive responses. None was considered highly appropriate for any of the occupations. This meant that people did not have clear and precise ideas about these cars. But Mercury took another blow right on the button. The Merc, said a large number of responses, was most appropriate for a racer, least appropriate for clergymen, doctors, and lawyers in that order. Mercury, obviously, was considered by most respondents to be a plush hot rod rather than a prestige car.

Just the opposite was the Buick. Respondents identified it with lawyers by the highest score on the entire sheet, and also gave it a heavy identification with doctors. Perhaps even more disturbing was the response to the Oldsmobile name. Both racers and lawyers were associated with the Olds, in almost equal numbers. The Olds had evidently become the perfect composite of hot rod and prestige car.