Commentary

Ford Scoots Further Into Micro-Mobility Lane By Buying Spin

The Ford Motor Company yesterday acquired Spin, a two-year-old San Francisco-based electric-scooter-sharing company that currently has operations in 13 cities and campuses across the U.S. 

Axios says “the deal is worth close to $100 million, according to two sources, though another earlier put the price tag in the range of $40 million, which is around where Spin was valued after its Series A funding last year.” The Wall Street Journal is going with “around $80 million to $90 million.”

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The headline on Ford’s press release announcing the acquisition, which was also used atop a Medium article carrying the byline of Ford X vice president Sunny Madra, was notably jaunty: "LET’S GO FOR A SPIN: FORD BUYS SCOOTER COMPANY TO PROVIDE CUSTOMERS A FIRST-LAST MILE SOLUTION.”

The Ford X team, which was formed in January, is a “division within Ford Smart Mobility, LLC that aims to quickly build, acquire and pilot new transportation products and services,” Madra writes. “The most successful of these projects will become part of our growing mobility offering. One example is our recent micro-mobility academic research project with Purdue University that launched Jelly scooters.”

“This is more than a craze,” Madra tells Ian Thibodeau in the Detroit News. “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 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,” Thibodeau reports. “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.”

Indeed, “Bird and Lime, two other scooter companies, have tallied 10 million rides in less than a year,” Thibodeau points out.

“Lime, based in San Mateo, California, was founded in 2017 and has drawn more than $450 million in funding, at a valuation of more than $4 billion. Its investors include ride services giant Uber and Google’s parent Alphabet,” writes Reuters’ Paul Lienert. “Bird, based in Santa Monica, also was launched in 2017. It has attracted $400 million in investments and is valued at $2 billion.”

CNN Business’ Matt McFarland reports that Spin launched a dockless bikesharing service just over a year ago but then pivoted to the more profitable scooter-sharing business. 

“Spin CEO Derrick Ko said joining Ford will allow it to play the long game, rather than rushing to expand to secure another funding round,” he writes. “For Ford, the acquisition may protect it from a wave of new mobility options that threaten its core business of cars and trucks. It’s not the only automaker taking notice.

“Earlier this week, GM said it will sell electric bikes next year. Daimler will launch a scooter-sharing pilot in a Southern European city this year, and expand into Germany next year, according to a spokesman. And last week Tesla CEO Elon Musk said his company might make an electric bike,” McFarland continues.

“Within the next year and a half, Ford said, it aims to expand the scooter operator to more than 100 U.S. cities, as part of a broader push by the Dearborn, Mich.-based car maker to expand its urban transportation services,” Mike Colias and Eliot Brown report for the Wall Street Journal.

“Auto makers, concerned that the more than a century-old model of buying and owning cars could eventually lose favor in dense urban areas, are placing their bets on what the future of transportation might look like, particularly as smartphone apps create easier ways for consumers to make short trips on demand,” they add. “Car companies primarily have focused their investments on ride-hailing and autonomous-vehicle development, though more are dabbling in offerings such as e-bikes and new software apps that don’t involve automobiles.”

If you’re wondering how the scooter evolved from a kid’s toy to an urban phenomenon, “like so many inventions, the scooter was a child of necessity,” Sarha Holder tells us in a recent piece for CityLab

“One night in 1990, Wim Ouboter, a Dutch-Swiss banker and amateur craftsman, was ‘in the mood for a St. Gallen bratwurst at the Sternengrill in Zurich,’ or so the story goes. He wanted to get from his house to the brat place and then to a bar, stat, but the stops seemed too far apart to walk, and too close to drive.” 

You can take the rest of the twisty-but-entertaining journey from Ouboter’s wurst-inspired vision to the present micro-mobility revolution-in-the making here.

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