(This article originally appeared in Hemmings Classic Car #108, September 2013)
Watching Hudson in 1932
The Great Depression wreaked havoc on the automotive industry in the early 1930s. Several companies would not survive the decade and many more would not be around after World War II. In 1931 U.S. car production experienced a 29% overall drop from the previous year. The Hudson Motor Company experienced an even greater hit that year when they experienced more than 48% loss in sales. 1931 was a year that would see a loss of over $8.5-million and a drop in sales ranking from 4th to 7th. Heading into 1932 the company would launch an advertising offensive and rally its dealership network and sales force with a program entitled “Watch Hudson – which means Essex, too!”
With oversized catalogs and posters the “Watch Hudson” campaign began in December 1931. These 12” X 16” catalogs, sent directly to dealers, announced that for the 1932 model launch Hudson Motor Company would provide dealers with national advertising, issue a Retail Merchandising Guide and Presentation Album, create lapel buttons, posters and stickers with the “Watch Hudson” logo on them and issue announcement cards. In exchange, dealers were expected to lower their used car inventory, clean and brighten showrooms and prepare a prospect list immediately.
Several tips and suggestions were provided in the announcement catalog. One of the more interesting sales suggestions was to get school kids to talk to their parents about the 1932 Hudson line by simply “going to all school yards and passing out a button for every boy and girl” with the lure of “$1 for the first youngster bringing in a ‘Watch Hudson’ lapel button with a written statement from one of his parents that they had noticed it.”
The hardcover Presentation Album is absolutely amazing and brings the features and specifications of the Hudson-Essex lineup to the prospect on giant 19” X 14” pages. There are full-color plates for each body style, lists of standard equipment, illustrations of engines and even a section describing how Hudson-Essex cars will appeal instantly to women.
To compliment the “Watch Hudson” marketing tools in early 1932, the company issued traditional sales catalogs advertising the company’s 101-horsepower eight-cylinder Hudson line and 70-horsepower six-cylinder Essex cars. New features for both car lines in 1932 included an automatic choke, improved generator, twin mufflers and free-wheeling. The sales catalogs were fully illustrated and very colorful just like the Presentation Album.
The “Watch Hudson” campaign was too early for the mid-1932 launch of the Essex Terraplane but a separate catalog was produced for takeoff in July. That catalog only featured a splash of color on the front and back covers while the remaining pages were two-toned. The first Terraplane was suitably christened by aviatrix Amelia Earhart and given as a gift to the Wright Brothers during an event that was broadcast live over national radio. The Terraplane featured “airplane construction”, streamlining and was described as an automobile with phantom wings.
While the Great Depression continued to torment the automobile manufacturers in 1932 with a 42.5% drop in sales across the industry, Hudson only saw a 27.9% drop. Hudson lost another $8-million that year but the bleeding would progressively slow in 1933 and 1934. Perhaps it was the “Watch Hudson” campaign or the success of the new Terraplane that gave Hudson a, relatively speaking, successful year. Either way, the literature from this era is a fantastic product and a joy to browse.