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Ford is buying shuttle service Chariot to dominate San Francisco’s transport system

Ford wants to prove that it can do transportation as a service — and do it right.


Ford CEO Mark Fields often talks about how the company is turning into “both an auto and a mobility company.” Now, as pressure from competition in the transportation space mounts, Ford has started to do more than just talk about the future of mobility.

Today, the CEO announced the automaker is acquiring crowd-sourced shuttle company Chariot.

Ford declined to tell us how much they paid for the San Francisco-based startup but said it was an all-cash transaction.*

The company is also partnering with Motivate — the company behind New York’s Citibikes — to expand a bike-sharing program in San Francisco that would bring 7,000 of Ford’s “GoBikes” to the city.

At the Consumer Electronics Show last year, Fields announced a series of experiments called the Ford Smart Mobility Program, which is now its own subsidiary led by executive Jim Hackett. While not all those experiments panned out, among them were two that Ford is now bringing to fruition: The dynamic shuttle and a bike-sharing experiment.

The dynamic shuttle was tested in a number of cities, including London, and operated like a bus, except that it would come as close to your door as was logistically possible. For example, you and five other people would indicate your pick-up and drop-off points into an app, which would dynamically create a route that would work for all of the passengers.

While the automaker has kept busy with both investments in companies like Velodyne and mapping startup Civil Maps, the Chariot purchase will be Ford’s Smart Mobility subsidiary’s first acquisition since it was formed in March.

As it exists now, Chariot only operates on 28 mostly fixed routes with close to 100 Ford Transit shuttles. Chariot’s team will be joining Smart Mobility, based out of San Francisco, and will build on top of Ford’s existing dynamic shuttle program to create a more on-demand experience. That means, at some point, more routes will be created as needed.

Chariot, which was created in 2014, has only raised $3 million in seed funding led by Stephanie Palmeri of SoftTech VC with participation from Jim Scheinman of Maven Ventures as well as 14 other investors and firms like Semil Shah and Winklevoss Capital.

Between the shuttle-service acquisition and the partnership with Motivate, this is a clear effort on Ford’s part to try to dominate as many parts of the transportation ecosystem as possible. In places like San Francisco, that means gobbling up as many of the private services that fill in the gaps left by existing public transportation that Ford can.

It’s unclear, however, how many gaps companies like Uber and Lyft leave to fill. As the prices for ride-hail services continue to drop and the companies continue to release public-transportation-like features like UberPool and LyftLine, smart routes, upfront fares and monthly passes, there may be little left for Ford, much less any other company, to try to dominate.

As we approach our driverless future, these services have the potential to become indistinguishable commodities. Why choose one over the other?

For now, it’s all about taking over as many pieces of the puzzle as possible to create the greatest value for consumers. To that end, Ford developed an app called FordPass, which aggregates real-time data on transportation options including shuttles and bikes and suggests the best way to get from point A to point B.

Think HopStop (R.I.P.) or Google Maps, except the only way you’ll be able to access any of the Ford GoBikes is through the FordPass app.

“That will allow us to get people exposed to Ford who wouldn’t be exposed to Ford or even ever own a car, but there’s a way for us to serve a need for them and at the same time for us to have business opportunities,” Fields told Recode.

“We’re thinking about this as an ecosystem,” he continued. “How do the bikes not only serve a need, which is to get people around in a kind of a fun way, but also feed data that will allow us to provide them even more services? For example, if it’s going to rain, we can send them a note that says ‘you should take the shuttle, and here’s an incentive to do that.’”

* You can reach this reporter at or on messaging apps Confide and Telegram at (516) 233 - 8877.

Read this next: Uber chased self-driving deals with GM, Ford, Cruise and others before hooking up with Toyota

Correction: Stephanie Palmeri was the lead investor in Chariot’s seed funding. This story incorrectly identified Semil Shah as the lead investor in Chariot’s seed funding.

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