Ford joins scooter revo­lu­tion by pur­chas­ing start- up Spin

With $ 40M deal, au­tomaker joins Sil­i­con Val­ley trend

The Mercury News Weekend - - BUSINESS - By Peter Hol­ley The Wash­ing­ton Post

Some of the big­gest names in Sil­i­con Val­ley have jumped into the elec­tronic scooter busi­ness as it has rapidly grown from a se­ries of ex­per­i­men­tal West Coast start- ups to a multibillion dol­lar in­dus­try com­pet­ing in cities around the world.

Now one of Amer­ica’s best- known au­tomak­ers is jump­ing in the mix.

This week Ford an­nounced that the le­gacy au­tomaker from De­troit has pur­chased Spin, a San Fran­cis­cobased elec­tric scoot­er­shar­ing com­pany fo­cused on the “last- mile” trans­porta­tion mar­ket.

The $ 40 mil­lion pur­chase means Ford joins com­pa­nies such as Al­pha­bet, Google Ven­tures, Uber and Lyft, all of which have poured mil­lions into the up­start es­cooter revo­lu­tion.

“The num­ber of mo­bil­ity op­tions avail­able to peo­ple has risen dra­mat­i­cally in re­cent years,” said Sunny Madra, vice pres­i­dent of Ford’s in­no­va­tions branch X, in an on­line state­ment. “In some sit­u­a­tions, peo­ple use mul­ti­ple forms of trans­porta­tion dur­ing a sin­gle trip. The fast- paced, of­ten ex­per­i­men­tal mo­bil­ity sec­tor re­quires busi­nesses to keep up with ag­ile and adapt­able cus­tomers. At Ford, the prod­ucts and ser­vices we of­fer need to re­flect th­ese changes.”

Un­like e- scooter be­he­moths Bird and Lime, which op­er­ate in dozens of cities and have ex­panded in­ter­na­tion­ally, Spin scoot­ers are avail­able in 13 U. S. cities and cam­puses, in­clud­ing Co­ral Gables, Florida, Wash­ing­ton, D. C., Den­ver, De-

troit, and Char­lotte. The de­vices — which cost $1 to rent and 15 cents per minute to op­er­ate — are also pop­u­lar among stu­dents at the Uni­ver­sity of Troy in Alabama, ac­cord­ing to the uni­ver­sity.

“We will con­tinue to op­er­ate as a stand- alone busi­ness within Ford Smart Mo­bil­ity, poised to ex­pand ag­gres­sively,” the com­pany’s founders said in state­ment an­nounc­ing their ac­qui­si­tion by Ford. “Over the next few years, we plan to scale quickly across hun­dreds of U. S. mar­kets, in­clud­ing large me­trop­o­lises, mid- sized cities and col­lege cam­puses.”

In his state­ment, Madra em­pha­sized that Spin works “hand-in-hand with cities and uni­ver­si­ties,” “shares data with cities” and “do not launch with­out per­mis­sion.” E-scooter com­pa­nies like Bird and Lime have an­gered city of­fi­cials across the coun­try by dump­ing their de­vices on city streets with­out per­mis­sion be­fore strik­ing deals within weeks af­ter a lo­cal cus­tomer base has been es­tab­lished. As part of their op­er­at­ing agree­ments, of­fi­cials in cities like Port­land, Ore­gon, have be­gun de­mand­ing that e- scooter com­pa­nies share trans­porta­tion data lo­cal govern­ment.

Spin has felt the wrath of lo­cal of­fi­cials as well. Af­ter launch­ing in San Fran­cisco ear­lier this year, Spin was one of sev­eral e- scooter com­pa­nies barred from oper­a­tion while the city de­vel­oped a per­mit­ting process. When city of­fi­cials launched a pi­lot pro­gram, Spin, along with Bird and Lime, was not among the ben­e­fi­cia­ries.

As e-scooter com­pa­nies fan out across the globe, they have brought nu­mer­ous chal­lenges with them, ac­cord­ing to doc­tors, lo­cal of­fi­cials and for­mer rid­ers.

Crit­ics have slammed com­pa­nies for ig­nor­ing lo­cal laws, but they’ve also been blamed for a rash of in­juries among rid­ers. In re­cent months, emer­gency room physi­cians have re­ported see­ing a stream of badly in­jured rid­ers, many of whom have sus­tained se­vere head trauma and bro­ken bones typ­i­cally as­so­ci­ated with mo­tor­cy­cle ac­ci­dents.

The in­juries have been blamed on reck­less rid­ers in many cases, but in oth­ers, rid­ers have said their in­juries were caused by mal­func­tion­ing scoot­ers, an is­sue that many ex­perts blame on poorly-de­signed ve­hi­cles and lim­ited main­te­nance. Last week, The Wash­ing­ton Post re­ported that Lime had re­called thou­sands of scoot­ers this sum­mer af­ter dis­cov­er­ing that a small num­ber of them may be car­ry­ing bat­ter­ies with the po­ten­tial to catch fire.

Lime blamed Seg­way, which man­u­fac­tures the vast ma­jor­ity of the world’s scooter fleet, in­clud­ing Spin. Re­spond­ing sev­eral days later, Seg­way said their prod­uct is over­whelm­ingly safe and im­plied that Lime was re­spon­si­ble for the de­vices be­com­ing fire-prone.

At least two peo­ple have been killed in ac­ci­dents in­volv­ing e- scoot­ers in re­cent months, and com­pa­nies like Bird and Lime are fac­ing mul­ti­ple- class ac­tion law­suits, one of which ac­cuses the com­pa­nies of “gross neg­li­gence.”

COUR­TESY OF SPIN

Ford an­nounced that the le­gacy au­tomaker has pur­chased Spin, a San Fran­cisco- based elec­tric scooter- shar­ing com­pany fo­cused on the “last- mile” trans­porta­tion mar­ket. Spin scoot­ers are avail­able in 13 U. S. cities and cam­puses.

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