Ford realigns mobility division after two acquisitions

Nora Naughton
The Detroit News

Ford is acquiring two companies, including one of its self-driving partners, and is realigning its mobility division to speed development of an ambitious cloud-based platform that’s intended not just to coordinate transportation, but to transform whole cities.

Ford CEO James Hackett smiles while getting ready for an interview next to a self-driving delivery vehicle at CES International Tuesday.

The automaker is acquiring Autonomic, a Silicon Valley-based self-driving start-up it partnered with last year. Autonomic is a co-developer of Ford’s so-called Transportation Mobility Cloud.

This acquisition creates a new Ford X team, dedicated to experimenting with new business models for mobility, including the cloud platform. The team will be run by Autonomic CEO Sunny Madra, who joins Ford as vice president of Ford X.

The team is designed to be forward-thinking, and not every idea will reach the market. The idea is to “protect the incubation group from running mature businesses,” Ford’s president of mobility Marcy Klevorn said on a conference call Thursday.

Ford also is acquiring TransLoc, a transit-technology company out of Durham, North Carolina, that develops city-owned microtransit systems. TransLoc will roll into Ford Smart Mobility LLC’s global marketing and sales team, established as part of the reorganization today. Brett Wheatley, Ford’s director of marketing, sales and service fitness transformation, will oversee this marketing and sales team as vice president of mobility marketing and growth.

Ford Smart Mobility will also break out a mobility business group, which will be responsible for growing the automaker’s existing mobility businesses — such as the Chariot shuttle fleets — and future businesses that come out of Ford X. A separate “platforms and products” team will lead design and development of the technology driving Ford’s mobility services.

Ford Motor Company President and CEO Jim Hackett

Marion Harris, Ford Credit’s chief financial officer will oversee the mobility business group. Rich Strader, vice president of mobility product solutions, will oversee the new products team.

This reorganization comes a day after Ford CEO Jim Hackett promised during the company’s 2017 earnings report that the company will focus on a “fitness redesign” to become more financially “fit.” Hackett did not offer specifics beyond six bullet-points naming vague benchmarks like accountability, efficiency and simplicity.

Ford saw a 65 percent increase in annual profit in 2017, but pre-tax profit dropped $1.9 billion from a year ago to $8.4 billion.

Neither company leaders nor investors were satisfied with Ford’s performance in 2017.

Klevorn said Thursday the re-aligned mobility division will be better-equipped to accelerate and launch businesses adjacent to its Transportation Mobility Cloud including ride-sharing, non-emergency medical transportation and vehicle management as a service.

“The key to success will be trying to scale this up and get other transportation companies to join into their system,” said Mike Ramsey, an automotive analyst with Gartner. “The concepts are good, but execution may be difficult. There are a number of new players planning to do similar things, like the mapping company, Here, which launched Here Mobility recently.”

The automaker announced the Transportation Mobility Cloud at CES in Las Vegas earlier this month when Hackett delivered a keynote address. The mobility cloud is a framework for cities to create systems in which each element of the urban landscape — from buses and self-driving cars, to the infrastructure and smartphones in pedestrians’ pockets — speaks the same language. The Blue Oval is inviting everyone from cities to app developers and other automakers to join it in developing the technology. The open-cloud platform is designed to act as a base upon which other companies can build their own systems.

Ford has said its first self-driving car will be a hybrid-electric vehicle, built from the ground up for autonomous driving and carrying a new nameplate. It will be purpose-built and run at least 20 hours per day.