Whatever happened to the Stanley Steamer automobile? From the production of Stanley’s first model in 1897, the Company outsold every other firm that produced internal combustion powered vehicles until the brands demise in 1924. The Steamers were safe, durable and easily maintained. So what killed the Stanley Steamer?

The Stanley Automobile Company was founded by twin brothers Francis and Freelan Stanley. The cars gained fame when a model set the world land speed record in 1906, covering one mile in 28.2 seconds. The early Steamers enjoyed a solid performance advantage over the primitive gasoline powered cars of the era.

The Stanley brothers enjoyed a sterling reputation at that time for producing cutting product, both from a design and engineering standpoint. Then a grievous error was made: they fell in love with their product. Steam was soon to become obsolete as a source of power. Improved internal combustion technology made the gasoline powered car much cheaper than the Stanley Steamer. By the end of it’s useful life in 1924 the Stanley Steamer sold for $3950, while the Ford Model T retailed for $500.

The invention of the electric starter was another heavy blow that the Stanley Steamer could not overcome. Early internal combustion engine powered cars were started with a hand crank. The crank was notorious for causing injury and made starting a car almost impossible for women.

As the sales model for the automobile adjusted to the realities of mass production the Stanley’ brothers remained adherents of the costly steam generated power train. In desperation, seeking to halt the sales slide that their cars endured, they produced an advertising campaign that sought to instill fear and doubt about the safety of the internal combustion engine.

This marketing campaign was one of the earliest examples of negative advertising and the results were abysmal. “Power-Correctly Controlled, Correctly Generated, Correctly Applied to the rear axle” surely goes down in history as one of the most cumbersome, dull, forgettable branding statements or advertising campaign slogans of all time. The purpose of these ads was not to sell the advantages of the Stanley Steamer, but to instill doubt in consumer’s minds about the safety of the internal combustion engine.

Because Stanley did not continually keep ahead of rapidly advancing automotive technology, the Company’s Steamer cars were obsolete and the firm closed its doors in 1924. This is a classic example of how a market leader can rapidly lose the advantages built up so carefully over years and quickly be pushed into the dust bin of history.

Sad stories about products and Companies like the Stanley Automobile Company are commonplace. Virtually every industry and product category experiences such examples of churn, decline, destruction and new startups arising to fill space deserted by fallen stars. Marketers must always assume that competition is working relentlessly to overcome any advantage that they might currently enjoy and are seeking to replace their products with newer, fresher designs and technology. To not be fearful of the unknown is much more than unwise, it is stupid!

Author's Bio: 

Geoff Ficke has been a serial entrepreneur for almost 50 years. As a small boy, earning his spending money doing odd jobs in the neighborhood, he learned the value of selling himself, offering service and value for money.

After putting himself through the University of Kentucky (B.A. Broadcast Journalism, 1969) and serving in the United States Marine Corp, Mr. Ficke commenced a career in the cosmetic industry. After rising to National Sales Manager for Vidal Sassoon Hair Care at age 28, he then launched a number of ventures, including Rubigo Cosmetics, Parfums Pierre Wulff Paris, Le Bain Couture and Fashion Fragrance.

Geoff Ficke and his consulting firm, Duquesa Marketing, Inc. (www.duquesamarketing.com) has assisted businesses large and small, domestic and international, entrepreneurs, inventors and students in new product development, capital formation, licensing, marketing, sales and business plans and successful implementation of his customized strategies. He is a Senior Fellow at the Page Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, Business School, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio.