Ford Buys Automotive App Maker Livio Radio For ‘Less Than $10M’

Ford Motors today is announcing the acquisition of Livio Radio, a maker of a platform for in-car apps, with a focus on audio and music services. This is the car-maker’s first technology acquisition in 13 years. The Ferndale, MI-based startup — now a subsidiary of Ford’s Global Technologies Group — will continue to operate under the original name. Neither party has disclosed the terms of the deal, only stating that Ford paid less than $10m for the in-vehicle app maker.

“It’s not everyday that something you start out of your bedroom gets acquired by a Fortune 500 company,” Livio CEO and founder Jake Sigal told me following today’s announcement.

I visited Livio in late 2012. It’s a small office on a busy road in Ferndale, Michigan. Cement floors. Gadgets and tradeshow props strewn around. The culture was vibrant. You could say, infectious. All the engineers work out of a single conference room, circling around a single table. Sigal told me today they have since outgrown that single room and there are now engineers spilling out into the hallway. Sigal says Livio Radio has an amazing culture focusing on their team.

“It’s hard to believe that in 2008 I decided to go do my own thing and we hired great,” he said. “We really are a team here.”

Ford CTO Paul Mascarenas says purchasing Livio Radio was about acquiring the talented 11-person team behind Livio Radio, the company’s intellectual property and the ability to forge a standard for automotive apps.

This is Ford’s first technology acquisition since October 2000 when it partnered with Qualcomm on the ill-fated Wingcast, a joint venture aimed at developing wireless data services for vehicles.

Exact terms of the deal was not disclosed. The two companies have been in talks since early this year. Mascarenas indicated that the whole deal cost less than $10 million and funds were provided solely by Ford Global Technologies Group. Myine Electronics, LLC, doing business under the name Livio Radio, had raised $2.15 million in two funding rounds.

“We couldn’t do what Livio has already done,” Mascarenas said. “Their own intellectual property complement’s Ford’s App Link.

Right now, nearly every automotive OEM uses its own proprietary automotive application platform. Since pivoting from making Pandora radios over a year ago, Livio has been developing a universe platform aimed at bringing apps into cars.

“We connect smartphones to work with head units in automobiles,” Joey Grover Livio Radio’s mobile tech room told me at CES 2013 (full interview below), adding that the company was attempting to get as many apps in the car as they can. At the time, this list included apps like Accuweather, TuneIn, Rdio and Grooveshark.

Livio’s founder and CEO Jake Sigal noted that this is a great opportunity to work towards an industry standard. Under the terms of the deal, Livio is still free to continue its work with other OEMs. Livio currently provides solutions for other automakers including General Motors with Sigal noting it’s easier to push the industry towards a standard if you’re not just some startup in metro Detroit.

CES 2013 Interview with Livio Radio