Ford acquires scooter company, launches in Detroit

Ian Thibodeau
The Detroit News

Ford Motor Co. is adding two-wheeled scooters to its transportation lineup.

Ford Motor Co. has acquired electric scooter company Spin, and will launch them in Detroit immediately

The Dearborn-based automaker announced Thursday it acquired San Francisco-based dockless electric scooter company Spin, and would launch those scooters in Detroit immediately. Sundeep Madra, vice president of Ford X, a new division within Ford Smart Mobility that acts like a startup business incubator focused on mobility ideas, said the scooters help Ford round out its end-to-end mobility offerings.

Ford can now reach any kind of customer, he said, from car buyers to urban e-scooter riders. It's clear to Ford that the scooters have quickly evolved into a viable urban transportation option, and not just a quirky toy.

The generation of kids that remember the years that Razor scooters were on everyone's wish list are now working in major downtown offices, Madra said. Those people are comfortable on a scooter, they're comfortable using an app to call up transportation, and the e-scooters can whisk someone from place to place without them breaking a sweat in their work attire.

They're also fun, he said. 

"This is more than a craze," Madra said. Bird Rides Inc. and Lime, two companies currently operating in Detroit and around the country, have tallied 10 million rides in less than a year. "This is really addressing a real need. It's one of the spaces where we're convinced there is starting to be a serious product market."

The scooters have caused a fuss in multiple U.S. cities. Ann Arbor officials confiscated scooters left on sidewalks, and threatened to ticket users driving the machines on sidewalks, according to MLive. In San Francisco, there were reports of people throwing Bird scooters into the ocean. In Detroit, there were complaints that the scooters weren't accessible to those in the neighborhoods who needed alternative transportation most.

And nearly every city fielded complaints that the parked scooters were cluttering the sidewalks.

Madra said Ford aims to abate those rubs. Spin doesn't launch in cities without permission, and the two companies plan to leverage Ford's existing relationships with city governments and universities to launch the scooters. 

The Detroit launch could hit at the right time. It's the first official launch since Ford acquired the company, and Detroit just updated its rules so that each scooter-sharing company will be able to deploy 400 of the devices — up from the previous cap of 300. The companies are also required to deploy 100 scooters in neighborhoods outside of Grand Boulevard. Officials said the city will work with the companies to ensure scooters are accessible throughout the city.

Spin currently operates in 13 U.S. cities. Over the next 18 months, Ford and Spin plan to launch  reach 100 markets. The scooters won't have Ford's logo on them, but Madra said the automaker is working on a way to get its brand involved.

The scooter company joins a list of companies Ford has founded, acquired or invested in over the last several years geared toward alternate modes of transportation, or transportation services. The automaker now has its hands in a bike-share program, a shuttle service, a non-emergency medical transport service, a vehicle subscription service, and traditional leases and sales. Ford plans to launch its autonomous vehicle business by 2021.

The scooters, Madra said, help Ford reach one of its goals related to mobility.

"We're trying to solve congestion problems," Madra said. "The solution to that isn't to put more cars on the road."

Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau