It is understandable when people, as Rick Moran did in his February 2, 2012, AT blog post, compare boondoggles such as the Chevy Volt to the Edsel. But the Volt is not comparable the Edsel.
The Edsel certainly had its problems. Edsel is a bizzarre name that potential buyers associated with animals or dead batteries. Its commode-like front grill was strange. The Edsel line confused customers since it was priced like comparable cars from Ford and Mercury. The marketing was horrendous and the line debuted during a recession and during the advent of fascination with economy cars. In addition, then-Ford executive Robert McNamara was busy disdaining the Mercury, Lincoln, and Edsel divisions. His management skills were later on display during the Vietnam War. Simply, the Edsel was the wrong car at the wrong time. It happens.
Unlike the Volt, however, the Edsel was solely the product of a private company attempting to establish another foothold in the automobile market. There were no presidential proclamations from Ike on the importance of the Edsel. There were no tax incentives to purchase an Edsel. While the Edsel had its engineering problems, there was no mass recall of the line almost immediately after its release, no controversies over what the government did and did not keep from the public about its safety. In other words, the Volt has a long way to go before it can become an Edsel.
As earlier asserted, it is understandable when the Edsel is referenced to describe an abysmal failure. The connection has been made for decades and such an impression is difficult to erase. It is understandable, but it is a shame. It is a shame not because of the particular failure of a product of private enterprise. The most unfortunate aspect of the entrenchment of the word Edsel as a synonym for cosmic failure is the besmirchment of the car's namesake, Edsel Bryant Ford.
Edsel Ford was the only child of Henry and Clara Ford. While he inherited his father's knack for engineering, Edsel was truly an artist. He had an eye for design that his father never had nor cared to foster. He suffered under the domineering and erratic behavior of his father. He eventually pushed Henry to abandon the Model T when its course had run in favor of the modern Model A, thus saving the Ford Motor Company.
Edsel studied and collected the finest cars from all over the world during his life and his signature achievement was the Lincoln Continental. He was a quietly competent, a soft-spoken man with impeccable taste, refined dignity, and a flair for design. Edsel once said that while his father had made the most practical car, he would like to make the finest. None of the attributes of the Edsel's namesake describe the Chevy Volt nor how it was foisted upon the market. Perhaps the Volt will replace the Edsel as the default description for abysmal, laughable failure. It certainly should.