Ford expands business with shuttle, bicycle services

Michael Martinez
The Detroit News

Ford Motor Co. is expanding its business to include shuttle and bicycle services in select cities as it moves beyond selling cars and trucks.

The Dearborn automaker on Friday made a series of announcements in San Francisco. Among them: Ford will acquire shuttle service Chariot, and expand it from San Francisco to five other cities globally over the next 18 months. It will partner with bike-share service Motivate to add stations and 7,000 Ford-branded bicycles in the Bay Area by the end of 2018. And it is launching a “City Solutions” team as part of its Smart Mobility subsidiary to work with governments.

“What we’re creating here is an ecosystem and working with cities to help solve how the citizens get around,” President and CEO Mark Fields told The Detroit News.

Ford has been methodical in how it’s addressed alternative mobility options like ride-sharing, as well as autonomous and connected-car technologies. Nearly two years ago, it launched a series of “smart mobility” experiments around the world. It’s now beginning to implement some of those experiments that it feels make the most business sense.

“Whatever business we’re in, it’s really important for us to have a path to sustainable profitability,” Fields said. “We feel this is a great opportunity.”

Chariot, a shuttle service founded in 2014, operates about 100 Ford Transits along 28 different routes in San Francisco. The company crowd-sources its routes based on ride demand, and will eventually use real-time data and advanced software algorithms to determine the most efficient routes.

“It’s helping cities solve a problem — the issue of congestion,” Fields said. “It’s also really convenient for customers. Shuttles offer taxi-like convenience at the cost of mass transit.”

Ford has been experimenting with shuttle service around the country. Last year it launched a pilot program for employees on its Dearborn campus, and earlier this year became the exclusive vehicle provider for Ride KC, a shuttle service run by Bridj.

The acquisition of Chariot doesn’t mean Ford’s ruled out expanding into ride-hailing services like Uber or Lyft.

“As we move toward becoming an auto and mobility company, we’re looking at a lot of things,” Fields said. “Shuttles are very, very interesting for us and a big business opportunity. The same can be said for ride-hailing. (The shuttle service) is not to the exclusion of that.”

Ford has not announced the five cities it will expand to, but Fields said they will include places outside of the United States.

The automaker did not disclose a purchase price and said the deal was expected to close “imminently.”

Ford next year will offer its own bike service in the San Francisco Bay Area through Motivate, a company that operates and manages different bike-share fleets in 12 cities globally. The automaker will call the service Ford GoBike.

“It’s an adjacency that seems pretty distant for Ford,” said Jim Hackett, chairman of Ford Smart Mobility. “Our customers are in an ecosystem. There’s an advantage if you start to link them in smart ways.”

The bicycles Ford will use for the service were built in Detroit by manufacturer Detroit Bikes.

Ford hopes to collect real-time data from the bikes including location, bike availability and weather conditions to help optimize commutes and potentially link up with its shuttle service or other mobility options.

Customers will access the bike service through, FordPass, the automaker’s phone application that serves as an access point for all of its services.

Hackett said the bike service will expose new customers to the Ford brand.

“We think we’ll be able to see people trust the system not only for the safety of the bikes, but the linkage of the other parts of the transportation system,” he said.

Hackett was hired in March to oversee the Smart Mobility subsidiary. Along with the bike and shuttle services, Ford announced the creation of a “City Solutions” team that will work with local city governments to develop mobility solutions unique to their region.

In addition to the City Solutions team, Hackett said he’s expanding the Smart Mobility’s staff and is “really close” to naming a CEO.

Don Butler, executive director of connected vehicles and services at Ford, has said the CEO will likely come from outside the company in the tech field.

“The key leaders we see as being external,” Butler said in June.

Staff writer Keith Laing contributed.

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