Ford buys shuttle van start-up as part of mobility push

This investments and plans announced today are the latest in a string of moves by the Dearborn automaker to expedite its move into both mobility services and its quest to develop self-driving cars.

Brent Snavely
Detroit Free Press
Ford said Friday it has acquired Chariot, a shuttle service company in San Francisco announced a partnership with Motivate to carry Ford's GoBike in its bike-sharing service.

Ford said today it has acquired a shuttle service company in San Francisco and will set up a new team called City Solutions to enable cities around to the world to ease traffic congestion.

The Dearborn automaker is acquiring Chariot, a crowd-sourced shuttle service. Ford also announced a partnership with bike-sharing provider Motivate. Ford plans to work with Chariot and Motivate to rapidly expand their transportation services to more cities.

Ford did not disclose the price it is paying for either business.

Ford CEO Mark Fields made the announcement today in San Francisco with Edwin Lee, the city's mayor.

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"If you look at the challenges in the world today, cities are growing, they are becoming more congested and people need new and different options to get around," Fields told the Free Press. "As a company, we want to be part of the solution."

These are Ford's latest steps into what industry leaders call new mobility services.

Chariot currently operates with about 100 Ford Transit vans driven on 28 routes throughout San Francisco. Fields said Ford wants to expand that to five other markets in the next 18 months.

Last month, Ford said it would develop a fully autonomous car by 2021 and double its research and engineering staff in Silicon Valley. The company also invested $75 million in Velodyne, a developer and manufacturer of Lidar, and several other companies that specialize in technology necessary for self-driving vehicles.

"Our goal is to use Chariot as a platform and to scale this around the world, in the largest cities," said Jim Hackett, chairman of Ford Smart Mobility, a subsidiary created to focus on mobility services.

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“Chariot’s mission from day one has been to solve the commute by providing a mass transit solution that is fast, reliable and affordable for people living in today’s cities,” said Ali Vahabzadeh, Chariot co-founder and CEO.

Motivate is a bike-sharing company doing business in nine U.S. cities, Toronto and Melbourne, Australia. Ford said it will help Motivate to add new stations and increase its bike fleet to add 7,000 Ford branded bikes in the Bay area by 2018.

The bicycles Ford will use for the service are built in Detroit by manufacturer Detroit Bikes. There are discussions about adding electric bikes in the future.

Ford said City Solutions is a new team that will work with cities that want to expand mobility services. The automaker named John Kwant vice president of City Solutions. He previously worked in Ford's government relations and global strategy department.

Contact Brent Snavely: 313-222-6512 or Follow him on Twitter @BrentSnavely.