The Edsel was introduced amid considerable publicity on “E Day”—September 4, 1957. It was also promoted by a top-rated television special, The Edsel Show, on October 13, but the promotional effort was not enough to counter the adverse initial public reaction to the car’s styling and conventional build. The day after its launch, the Edsel was described as a “reborn LaSalle,” a brand that had disappeared in 1940. For months, Ford had been telling the industry press that it “knew” (through its market research) that there would be great demand for the vehicle. Ford also insisted that, in the Edsel, it had built exactly the “entirely new kind of car” that Ford had been leading the buying public to expect through its pre-introduction publicity campaign for the car. In reality, however, the Edsel shared its engineering and bodywork with other Ford models, and the similarities were apparent once the vehicle was viewed firsthand.
The Edsel was to be sold through a newly formed division of the Ford Motor Company, as a companion to the Ford Division, Mercury Division, Lincoln Division and (newly formed but also short-lived) Continental Division. Each division had its own retail organization and dealer network. The free-standing Edsel Division existed from November 1956 until January 1958, after which Edsel sales and marketing operations were integrated into the Mercury-Edsel-Lincoln division (referred to as M-E-L).
The Edsel offered several features that were considered innovative for the time, including its rolling-dome speedometer; warning lights for such conditions as low oil level, parking brake engaged, and engine overheating; and its push-button Teletouch transmission shifting system in the center of the steering wheel (a conventional column-shift automatic was also available at a reduced price). Other Edsel design innovations include ergonomically designed controls for the driver and self-adjusting brakes (which Ford claimed for the Edsel as a first for the industry, even though Studebaker had pioneered them earlier in the decade). The Edsel also offered such advanced features for the time as seat belts (which were available at extra cost as optional equipment on many other makes) and child-proof rear door locks that could only be opened with the key.
Unlike Ford and Mercury, the Edsel division never had any dedicated manufacturing plants. All Edsels were built in Ford or Mercury plants on a contract basis.
Ford announced the end of the Edsel program on November 19, 1959. However, production continued until late in November, with the final tally of 2,846 model year 1960 cars. Total Edsel sales were approximately 116,000, less than half the company’s projected break-even point. The company lost $350 million, or the equivalent of $2,900,000,000 in 2016 dollars, on the venture. Only 118,287 Edsels were built, including 7,440 produced in Ontario, Canada. By U.S. auto industry standards, these production figures were dismal, particularly when spread across a run of three model years.