NAIAS: Ford's Head of Mobility Says Foray into Microtransit Proved Valuable

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announcements. We had a chance to chat with Marcy Klevorn, who oversees Ford’s mobility unit, about the news that Ford has shut down its Chariot shuttle service, as well as pulled resources from bikesharing in favor of scooters. We also talked about ongoing renovations at Michigan Central Station, the abandoned behemoth of a train station in Detroit that will serve as the centerpiece of the automaker’s mobility operation once construction is complete, pegged now for 2020.

Klevorn also confirmed that Ford plans to have a commercial vehicle capable of level 4 autonomy on the road by 2021, even as others in the industry have backed off from such specific timelines in the face of technical challenges that are immensely difficult to solve.

Regarding Chariot, the now-defunct microtransit startup Ford acquired less than three years ago for $65 million, Klevorn said, “I view Chariot as a gift because we learned so much. We started Ford Commercial Solutions, a fleet data aggregation tool for small businesses and [Ford] partners , which wouldn’t have been possible without Chariot.”  These experiences taught Ford what fleet operators want, as well as how to work with cities on the implementation of transportation technology, she said.

“When you have a ride service, you have to work with cities to become part of the fabric of the community,” Klevorn said. “We used Chariot to learn about different business models and consumer preferences.”

Ford dropped its sponsorship of the Ford GoBike bikesharing program in San Francisco earlier this month, Klevorn said, as a result of Lyft’s July acquisition of Motivate, the company that makes the bikes. (Lyft didn’t want another company’s branding on its bikes, she added.) She also described Ford GoBike as a positive learning experience that taught the automaker more about micromobility.

In November, Ford bought electric scooter startup Spin for a reported $100 million. Klevorn says that decision was made because Spin “operates in a way consistent with Ford’s values,” and because scooters have become popular in urban areas. “The consumers have spoken—they take 240,000 scooter rides and generate $1 million in revenue per day,” she continued. “We listened to customer preferences—scooters work really well for first and last mile solutions over short distances.”

Klevorn called the extensive renovations on Detroit’s Central Station, which will eventually be the heart of Ford’s autonomous vehicle development efforts, “super exciting.” Ford’s plans call for the area surrounding the train station to be a “mobility lab. We’ll have a little community there to really start working with cities,” she said. Ford also plans to set up interactive displays inside the train station to showcase its latest mobility innovations.

In 2019, Klevorn predicts that the breathless anticipation surrounding self-driving cars will continue to level out. “The thread through CES was there’s a lot of hype, but it’s starting to settle,” she said. “2019 will be a year of execution, of putting together puzzle pieces to create a bigger puzzle.”

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