Ford (F) on Friday continued its push to expand beyond autos, acquiring shuttle service provider Chariot and partnering with bike-share operator Motivate Inc.
San Francisco-based Chariot runs a crowd-sourced shuttle service operating nearly 100 Ford Transit buses along 28 routes throughout the San Francisco Bay area. The company's routes are based on rider demand. Ford said that the business will serve as the basis for a new global shuttle services business, with expansion planned into at least five additional markets in the next 18 months.
Chariot was founded in 2014 and has raised at least $3 million in venture funding.
New York-based Motivate, formerly Alta Bicycle Share, is the largest operator of bike-share programs in the U.S., working with local governments in San Francisco, New York, Toronto, Washington and Boston among others to provide bicycles on demand. Ford said it would partner with the company to create a San Francisco-based bike-sharing program to be called Ford GoBikes, with a goal to have 7,000 bicycles available in the Bay Area by the end of 2018.
The moves are part of a broader push by automakers to stay ahead of the curve as new technologies threaten to decrease American dependence on the automobile in favor of more temporary options. Ford archrival General Motors (GM) earlier this year invested $500 million in rideshare vendor Lyft and reportedly later tried to acquire the company outright, while also acquiring self-driving technology maker Cruise Automation Inc.
Ford in July was part of an investment consortium that provided $6.6 million to mapping startup Civil Maps, and earlier this year bought a stake in cloud computing vendor Pivotal Software Inc.
The goal, according to Ford CEO Mark Fields, is to transform the company once best known for making a Taurus for your garage into a multifaceted provider of transportation. The automaker founded Ford Smart Mobility LLC earlier in the year, with Chariot the first outright acquisition by the new unit.
"We're expanding our business to be both an auto and a mobility company, and partnering with cities on current and future transportation needs is the next major step," Fields said in a statement. "For more than 100 years, Ford has been part of the community and the trusted source for automotive transportation. Now, we want to work with communities to offer even more transportation choices and solutions for people - for decades to come."
The company is literally buying up the potential competition. Ford quoted a study it commissioned from KPMG that concluded that for every one Chariot-like shuttle on the road during peak travel times urban congestion could be reduced by up to 25 fewer vehicles. If those services, in connection with ride-sharing and short-term rentals, go mainstream, it is easy to see how consumer demand for vehicles could be reduced.
The Chariot shuttles complement mass transit by filling the gap between taxi and bus services - providing an on-demand, point-to-point transportation option that is convenient, efficient and cost-effective. For every one dynamic shuttle that is placed into service during peak travel times, urban congestion could be reduced by up to 25 fewer vehicles, according to a private study for Ford conducted by KPMG.
Ford said it was establishing a City Solutions team charged with working with cities on expanding mobility services.