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Will the Hummer Be Remembered As the Ford Edsel of the Twenty-First Century?

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2010: The Hummer died this week, not because of an American backlash that has been growing increasingly wrathful over the past eighteen years, but because of a failed deal with China, who determined the monster truck was simply not a good investment for the future of the Chinese car industry:

Specific reasons for the failure of the deal, first announced last June, were not released. But Chinese regulators had frowned on the purchase for much the same reason that U.S. consumers shunned Hummer; the vehicles size and poor fuel economy were incompatible in an era of high fuel prices, general economic weakness and greater concern about the harmful effects of vehicle emissions on the environment.

The Chinese government also wants to control a sprawling domestic auto industry that has expanded to more than 100 car makers nationwide. The purchase of Hummer by Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery, a private company that manufacturers heavy vehicles and road building equipment, would have only contributed to the diffusion. "The purchase of this brand is not a match for China," says Yale Zhang, a China market analyst auto-industry consultants CSM Worldwide. "The government's general policies about efficiency and environmental protection and number two about consolidation, it is all about these two very broad, general policies. This purchase does not match those."

1959: With a twee name, terrible gas-mileage, and the grill that some critics argued looked like “a vagina with teeth,” the 1957 Ford Edsel was a monstrosity of poor design and poor planning. Ford marketed the car like the second coming, including a celebrity-filled television special on CBS, The Ford Edsel Hour. The company manufactured around 200,000 cars in the first year, roughly five percent of the entire market at that time.

Ultimately, only 64,000 Edsels were sold and the line went under only two years after its unveiling. A 1959 editorial in the Los Angeles Times on the eve of the Edsel’s demise described a car desperately in search of a market and a buyer who really ought to have known better.

When the Edsel made its debut to the tune of optimistic trumpeting that the American public was ready for bigger, more powerful care, I already had become convinced that what the public wanted and what it could afford were two different things…

Car dealers were selling $4,000 cars to $5,000 and $6,000 incomes and I wondered where the economists were hiding then. Did these social scientists really believe that $5,000-per-year-families could afford $1,500 depreciation the first year of ownership and continue to stay in the new car market?

Did we really want huge cars? We didn’t know what we wanted as long as we had fun, felt important, and could get the credit.

The Edsel is a case in point, and it proves that even if you plant a want, herald its spontaneous creation, and rush to fill it, it won’t grow without proper nourishment…We consumers ought to be more careful when polled on our buying intensions, and we ought to consider our financial limitations when baring our hungry little souls.