Why the automobile industry is now largely investing in micro-mobility?
Ford and its race to acquire startups in the mobility sector.
The auto-giant Ford just acquired the electric scooter startup Spin as another of its efforts towards the strategy of becoming a mobility provider instead of mere automobile producer. As we discussed in this previous post, the use of electric scooters service as a way to provide people with an efficient and quick way to navigate around their neighbourhoods is spreading out around the world. And, contrary that many critics expected, they toy-like vehicles are not just being adopted as a leisure activity, the scooters are actually helping to change the car culture of cities once dominated by cars and with low public transportation.
In recent years, not just the scooters, but countless mobility solutions gained the streets as an effort to give people more opportunities to commute. We saw the shared bike systems becoming adopted worldwide, the quick expansion of car sharing and the first tests of autonomous cars along with other prototypes and ideas for the drivelers ownerless solution. Many are the reasons that are leading us to this new way of moving around our cities. First, the massive market of automobiles and the culture that was built around seems like losing its forces in recent decades. The reality of traffic congestions and environmental issues can be cited as some of the causes responsible to bring awareness towards the compulsive use and ownership of private vehicles. Together with that, mainly pushed by the generation that succeeds the baby boomers, values of consumption and ownership were shifted, and sharing became a symbol of consciousness and cool. Finally, we have the startup world, with young entrepreneurs backed by technology and money, trying to create a business that can at the same time worth one billion dollars and bring change to the world and the people. From this context emerges a big part of the innovation that we are witnessing in the mobility right now.
Like other auto-companies, Ford also seems like understanding the importance of directing their business to this new culture of transportation. For this reason, the company recently acquired many startups in the mobility market. Besides the electric scooter brand Spin, that we mentioned before, the micro transit service Chariot and Go Bikes are also under the investments of the company now. When the vehicle itself is taken out of this sum, the only value of this sector that will remain is the need of mobility. In this future that already started, auto-companies have to reshape their business in order to become a mobility provider within services that do not rely on ownership.
It is not uncommon to see big companies acquiring small startups that share their same market of actuation. However, is also important to consider how much this business move can actually bring and improvement to the service. Taking the electric scooters service as an example, Ford could add all sort of expertise to the startup. It could design electric scooters for example, or just use its international network of suppliers to find the right company to manufacture it. Finding ways to connect their network of scooters with the actual vehicles produced by the brand could also be an interesting alternative.
Furthermore, as Euwyn Poon, founder of Spin highlighted on his blog post about the company’s acquisition. “We’ll take a hyper-local approach to complement existing transit infrastructure, ensuring we are serving the communities and neighbourhoods who need micro-mobility the most.” The merge of electric scooters service and automobiles could also have a positive impact on what some specialists have been calling ‘micro-mobility’. The offer of shared transportation, especially with vehicles of small port like bicycles and electric scooters can create safer and better environments inside neighbourhoods. Those who need cars for traveling long distances would be guided to leave their vehicles in the vicinities of the communities right on the spot to grab an electric scooter, reducing the traffic inside these areas and leaving more space for pedestrians.
But in the end, having big companies behind their business or not, solutions in mobility must keep the focus on bringing solutions that can be affordable and able to add real benefits to the people and the communities where they are actively working.
Mateus Bagatini (Tokyo JP)
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