Ford Buys Two Startups in an Effort to Emphasize Mobility Services

The automaker is also reshuffling its mobility services group.

Getty Images

Ford still devotes the vast majority of its resources to making and selling cars, but it also wants to be a player in mobility services. The automaker advanced that agenda with the purchase of startups Autonomic and TransLoc, plus a major reshuffling of its mobility-services group.

Autonomic is a cloud-services startup that Ford acquired a stake in last October. Ford bought the startup outright in order to accelerate the development of the Transportation Mobility Cloud, an open-source platform for use by urban transportation services. Autonomic CEO Sunny Madra will also lead Ford X, a new team focused on developing new marketable tech-based services.

TransLoc also focuses on software, marketing an app called Rider for transit schedules and developing backend software infrastructure for transit agencies. Uber has shown some interest in the company in the past, but now Ford wants to leverage TransLoc's experience with coordinating transportation services, as well as the startup's network of relationships with transit agencies, for its own services.

Previous CEO Mark Fields initiated a push to turn Ford from a car company into a "mobility company." Fields may be gone, but it seems Ford is still moving in that direction. In addition to buying Autonomic and TransLoc, Ford plans to expand its Chariot shuttle service to new cities this year. The automaker said it will also expand non-emergency medical transportation from a pilot program into "a full business serving multiple medical systems."

Ford is also dividing up its existing mobility services group into four distinct entities. Ford X will serve primarily as an incubator for new tech-related businesses. The Mobility Business Group will oversee operation of Chariot, the non-emergency medical transport business, FordPass digital services, and related fleet businesses. Two more groups, Mobility Platforms and Products and Mobility Marketing and Growth, will oversee design and marketing of new services, respectively.

While it makes sense for automakers like Ford to diversify, it's hard to see where all of this is going. Fields' previous mobility push led to a drop in Ford's stock prices, few tangible products for consumers, and, ultimately, Fields' ouster. Meanwhile, Ford wants to launch 16 electric cars by 2022, while its only current all-electric model is the mediocre Focus Electric. Maybe Ford should concentrate on that instead.