Ford is already heavily invested in ebikes and shuttle services and is now expanding into dockless electric scooters. The automaker bought Spin, an electric scooter company, for a reported $40 million. Ford Motor, especially Chairman Bill Ford, has said repeatedly that it wants to be part of the total mobility solution. It was Bill Ford that stressed years ago that Ford is a mobility company, not just an automaker.
Ford introduced ebikes, both regular sized and folding bikes several years ago, to serve as first mile and last mile solutions for people. What that means is that commuters could use portable items like bikes to get to a larger form of transportation, like a car, shuttle, bus or train. Similarly, they could use that same form of transportation to travel the last mile from the parking lot, bus stop or train station, to their final destination. The electric scooters could easily serve that purpose as well.
Ford Establishes Ford X Division
Ford now uses the term micro-mobility to describe the smaller more portable forms of transportation. It has formed a new division called Ford X that will operate within its Ford Smart Mobility company to “quickly build, acquire and pilot new transportation products and services.”
The vice president of Ford X, Sunny Madra, discussed the purchase of Spin in an essay published on Medium.
According to Madra, “Ford is focused on delivering great products and services across the mobility spectrum, seeking to enhance the freedom of movement by building smart vehicles for a smart, connected world. This means continuing to develop world-class vehicles, including more hybrids and battery-electric vehicles. It also means continuing development of self-driving vehicles, which we plan to launch at scale by 2021. Another critical component of our mobility strategy is to develop a comprehensive set of software and services designed to better enable vehicle connectivity and utilization, as well as new mobility experiences and multimodal transportation solutions.”
Spin’s Current Operations
Spin already operates in 13 different cities and Ford plans to expand quickly into 100 more. It supposedly is starting operations in Detroit immediately.
Other companies, like Bird, have been exploding into cities across the country. There have been growing pains. Cities have struggled to regulate the scooter companies. Here in Denver, people are supposed to use the scooters on sidewalks only. In other cities, they are supposed to travel in the street. Riders are supposed to wear helmets. Good luck with that, helmets aren’t available for rent near the scooters. Many residents are sick of the scooters being left on lawns and thrown on sidewalks.
Madra says, “Spin is committed to working hand-in-hand with cities and universities to implement micro-mobility solutions responsibly, safely and sustainably as they expand their operations. They do not launch without permission; they share usage data with cities; and they work with local officials and university campuses to design educational tools around parking and riding rules. This approach aligns well with our values at Ford and with our aspiration to be the world’s most trusted company.”
Ford Working on Mobility Software
Ford is rapidly developing different software programs to improve transportation. Years ago, when it developed the ebike, it was working on software that would help riders with mapping. Ford’s apps would eventually be able to transmit the directions to the riders through vibrations in the handlebars, indicating when they should turn and which direction. It is easy to envision a similar system for the scooters down the road. Ford is also working on communication sensors built into roadways that would indicate if there are major accidents, obstacles or bad weather in your path. Again, that could eventually be transmitted to your Ford app or the scooter.
Much of Ford’s strategy could be based on building brand loyalty. If a scooter rider loves how well the Ford software helps them handle their commute, perhaps when it is time to buy a car, they will stay within the Ford family of vehicles. Ford says it intends to “provide a seamless transportation experience for the modern consumer.” As the scooter revolution explodes through the larger American cities, it makes sense that Ford wants to own a part of it. If the scooters help Ford win more customers down the road, even better.