The Ford Edsel: 1957’s “America’s Car”
The project that I chose for this assignment is the Ford Edsel, which I learned about from my grandfather. This is a historical project that failed miserably due to many project management issues. The Ford Edsel which was released in 1957, was supposed to be “America’s car” that all the buyers would want and need. Ford spent tons of money and years trying to create the perfect car, and made eighteen versions of it, to find out that the buyers weren’t even interested in their unreliable and poor product.
Did you know the Ford Motor Company released the Ford Edsel models on the day they called E-Day, in honor of Henry Ford’s recently passed son? On September 4th 1957, known as E-Day, the Ford Motor Company released one of the biggest project management failures in the automobile industry, the Ford Edsel. The Edsel model was heavily advertised to be everything American car buyers wanted. However, it turned into shambles due to eye-opening project management problems. As the Ford management team was trying to differentiate themselves from their competitors, it opened up holes within their strategic project. It created many concerns that made the Ford Motor Company announce the end of the Edsel program less than two years later. Four main management flaws created failure for the Ford Edsel: the overall project selection, the project’s quality management, the scheduling of the project, and the project’s risks that occurred. Although the Ford Edsel was seen through their failures, Ford and many other motor companies learned valuable lessons that sculptured the automobile industry.
First of all, the Ford Motor Company should have looked way more in-depth with the overall project selection of the Ford Edsel. Instead of just creating another car just like their competitors, Ford went above and beyond and tried to make a car far more in advanced then they should have. From the start, Ford’s strategic planning should have been developed around SWOT analysis’s, to see whether or not the Ford Edsel should have been even created, and to see if they had the right resources to do it. Ford should have been more focused on their overall vision and the long-term goals of their company, rather than making a vehicle that had all their future improvements. The article, “4 lessons from the failure of the Ford Edsel” states, “In a lazy attempt to please everybody, they made the terrible decision to debut 18 variations of the car at launch” (Feloni, 2015). This displays poor strategic planning that over goes their company’s goals, which were to remain in an affordable middle-class price market and stay customer-centric. Also, this failed project cost the Ford Motor Company over $250 million.
Next, the primary reason why the Ford Edsel project failed was because of the quality of the vehicle itself. Once the Ford Edsel was released, many consumers were disappointed with the quality and reliability issues from the very start. In the article, “Ford Edsel Brand Failure- A Design Thinking Perspective”, the author states, “Ford employees did not feel the ownership of the Edsel vehicles, and they took little pride in their work, which affected the quality of products” (Mohammed, 2017). This is a huge reason as to why the Ford Edsel was considered to be a failed project, and the quality management team should have been aware of this. Ford Motor Company knew this was going to be a huge step in their development and should have put more effort towards their quality management plan to ensure they had all the right equipment like materials, employees, etc. The employees and dealers should have been thoroughly trained to properly handle new problems that could have occurred, with the right material to do it. Also, the employees should have had the determination to want to create the next “America’s car” that everyone wanted. This is a project quality management issue that is just not acceptable in any market or industry.
Another main reason for the failure of the Ford Edsel was the project’s scheduling throughout the entire process. The major scheduling issue was that the release of the expensive new Ford Edsel was when the United States was in a recession. In the article, “Why the Ford Edsel Failed”, it states, “An expensive Ford didn’t look like a good option for most consumers” (Deaton, 2015). Ford Motor Company should have been preparing and studying more than just its market, to see what was going on within the economy as well. The project manager should have postponed the release of the Ford Edsel, which would allow more time to perfect the project and fix all the open gaps within the process. There was also another scheduling issue which was the yearlong heavy marketing campaign that Ford Motor Company did to prepare the United States for America’s new car. As it is very important to market new products as much as possible, advertising a product for a long time starts to create deadlines for the product. The heavy marketing campaign should be scheduled to start closer to the release date so that the product can be changed and corrected any time before that, and so it does not create deadlines for itself. Furthermore, advertising a product longer than it should can make the product less valuable and overhyped, which could potentially ruin a new product.
Lastly, Ford Motor Company should have paid more attention to their risk planning management. The Ford Edsel took many risks throughout their entire project, such as when they did not have the correct trained employees and materials needed for this operation. Trying to create a vehicle that is way more advanced than the employees and resources being utilized, is taking a huge risk for a well-known company like Ford. Ford Motor Company also put the Ford Edsel in risk by not letting anyone outside of the operations know or see what the product looked like until the release date. In the article, “The Edsel Automobile Legacy of Failure”, it states, “Anyone involved with the Edsel was sworn to secrecy not to leak a word about what was being claimed to be a radically new and innovative motor car” (Hamer, 2019). Not allowing consumers to receive a visual image of a new product through advertising only hurts the creation. It does not offer outside feedback from the market, which in this case most of the consumers in Edsel’s market found this new product to be ugly and unappealing. Since there was not any outside help for the Ford Edsel, all of the prototypes and testing were done within the company, which affected the outcome of their project. The Ford Motor Company should have been more concerned with the possible risk factors that essentially ruined their innovative project. The Ford Edsel should have been better prepared and had at least a risk plan response to possibly change their threats into opportunities for this creative vehicle. Doing this could have potentially prevented the failure of the Ford Edsel.
All in all, there was a lot to be learned from the creation of the Ford Edsel that not only affects the automobile industry but touches upon every industry that sells products. Failure happens all the time in every market, but it is all about how to accept it and move on. In the article, “Project Management: Scrapping a Doomed Project”, it states, “Successfully managing project-based work sometimes requires that project managers recognize when good projects have gone bad and pull the plug before too many resources are needlessly wasted” (Kiisel, 2010). As Ford Motor Company did lose over $250 million on the Ford Edsel creation, the project management was still able to realize that this product’s program needed to stop and was stopped less than two years later. From that moment on, the Ford Edsel was looked at as a lesson for Ford and other companies. It taught project management teams the importance of choosing the right project at the right times, having well-trained employees and correct resources, scheduling on the product’s deadlines, and being prepared for any risks that can occur. These lessons that were learned are valuable for all project management, in any industry with any product. Although trying to be innovative and creative can be hard, project management must be positive that they have all the right pieces to put together the project, or it will turn into a disaster.
In conclusion, the Ford Edsel will forever be looked at as one of the biggest failed projects in the car industry. Though Ford Motor Company was seen for their failure of this project during the early 1960s, they were able to accept it and move on to be wiser with their future products. Having the right perspective and mindset, Ford Motor Company was able to forget about this failure and build products that fit its customer-centric vision and mission ideas. In life it is known that you need to take risks to stand out and differentiate from your competitors, but for project managers, that might not always be the case.
Kevin Simek is a Montclair State University graduate who is very passionate about his writing and interests. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration with a Concentration in Management and has won numerous academic awards in the athletic program. He strives to purse a career in project management in the near future. Click here to learn more about the author: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kevin-simek
Deaton, J. P. (2015, July 08). Why the Ford Edsel Failed. Retrieved from https://auto.howstuffworks.com/why-the-ford-edsel-failed.htm
Feloni, R. (2015, September 05). 4 lessons from the failure of the Ford Edsel, one of Bill Gates’ favorite case studies. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/lessons-from-the-failure-of-the-ford-edsel-2015-9
Kiisel, T. B. (2010, April 05). Project management: Scrapping a doomed project. Retrieved from https://www.itworld.com/article/2756306/project-management–scrapping-a-doomed-project.html
Mohammed, S., & Mohammed, S. (2017, April 05). “Ford Edsel” Brand Failure – A Design Thinking Perspective. Retrieved from https://medium.com/@shahmm/ford-edsel-brand-failure-a-design-thinking-perspective-eea92d2e90ec
Tony, & Hamer, M. (2019, January 06). The Edsel Automobile Legacy of Failure. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/the-edsel-a-legacy-of-failure-726013