The fact that averaging worked could sometimes be unnerving. In the Fifties, Eggert was working for Ford, doing economic and market research. He'd frequently poll automotive suppliers and other industry experts to produce an average from the group. "It was embarrassing," Eggert says. "The average figure was often more accurate than my own. And here I was supposed to be the guy who knew."
This admission comes from an economist with his own remarkable record of economic prophesying. At Ford, Eggert helped develop and name the Mustang, the company's biggest success story, a car whose code name on Ford memos was the "Special Car."
Eggert's inspiration for the vehicle came when he looked for consumer trends. The one that caught his eye as the 1960s began was the youth movement. The 15-to-29 age group would expand by nearly 40 percent between 1960 and 1970, he discovered, while the 30-to-39 category would fall by almost 9 percent. The baby boomers were the buyers of the future.
"What I had was a bulge in the birthrate," Eggert says. "There was a tremendous number of young people that a small sports car would appeal to."
The Mustang was designed for them--the young, first-time car buyer who wanted an alternative to a used car. "The idea was, that if they bought a Ford as their first car, they would develop brand loyalty."
On the project, Eggert was teamed with another young Ford upstart--Lee Iacocca. "Lee obviously deserves credit of selling the Mustang to Mr. Ford," Eggert said. "But he sure couldn't pick a name."
According to Iacocca's autobiography, the car was named after the World War II fighter plane. Eggert says Iacocca's memory is a little short.
"Lee wanted to call it the Turino. And he was a very firm guy. Nobody could ever understand why. He was the only guy that liked the Turino name. Well, as it turns out, his dad was born in Turin, Italy, and he had promised his father that he would name a car after him. That was his motivation."
Eggert's research team calculated the public response to Iacocca's proposed car name. "It wasn't on the bottom. We made sure of that," Eggert chuckles, remembering Iacocca's ego. "We put in worse ones from the advertising company, but Turino was a real dog. We had to do two studies to convince Lee that the Mustang was the best name. Thankfully, it came out on top in both." (Iacocca later used the name Torino on a mid-size car in the 1970s.) Eggert says the eventual name came from a book his wife had given him: Mustang by Texas author Frank Dolby. "I thought that it would be a good American name. When the car concept came up, I started to promote it."
On the other hand, Eggert's success with the Mustang came after a mistake that was not only the biggest of his career, but one of the biggest in the history of American business. The very word means catastrophe: the Edsel.
Eggert was working in the Ford marketing division when the economist got the nod--or rather push--to research the marketing plan for the Edsel. The company started new dealerships, hired salespeople and invested in one of the largest public relations efforts ever seen.
The car failed, to say the least. By 1958, after fewer than two years of production, the company had lost more than $300 million--more than the combined expenditures of the U.S. State and Justice Departments, including the FBI--and canceled the car named after the founder's son.
Eggert was right in the middle of the disaster. His first car forecast was wrong by a staggering one million vehicles. "What a year to be wrong," he says, shaking his head. "I almost got fired."
THE REMAINDER of his career was considerably calmer, and his predictions more accurate. Eggert left Ford in 1969 to become the chief economist for RCA. While there, he served as an economic consultant to three separate Councils of Economic Advisers to the President, and as an adviser to the Congressional Budget Office. In 1973, Harvard Business School awarded him the highest honor it bestows on an economist, the "Seer of the Year," for his accuracy in economic forecasting. He'd come a long way from the Edsel. He'd become one of the most accurate economic forecasters in the country.