Ford acquires Autonomic and TransLoc as it evolves its mobility business

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Ford is acquiring Autonomic and TransLoc, two of its partners, in deals that will help its new mobility business take shape. The acquisitions follow Ford’s announcement at CES earlier this month that it would be working with Silicon Valley-based Autonomic, a transportation architecture and technology provider, on its forthcoming Transportation Mobility Cloud open platform for cities and transportation partners.

TransLoc is a company that builds technology to support “microtransit” services, including, real-time tracking, demand modelling and response analysis, as well as consumer-facing mobile apps and services. All of those components are important pieces of the puzzle for something like the Transportation Mobility Cloud, which Ford hopes will be adopted by partners including other automakers, public transit providers, and service operators including ride-hailing and ride sharing companies.

“Between the acquisition of Autonomic and TransLoc, plus the organizational changes, this is an acceleration of the mobility strategy here at Ford,” explained Neil Schloss, Ford’s CFO of Ford Mobility in an interview.

Ford’s acquiring both of these companies through its Smart Mobility LLC subsidiary, and the new companies bring new talent, which is also part of a general realignment of its Mobility group. Autonomic CEO Sunny Madra will lead a new part of Ford called ‘Ford X,’ which will be essentially a skunkworks where Ford can incubate internal idea, concepts and projects before deciding what to pursue to more mature product status.

“Ford X is going to be given a little bit of money, a little bit of people, and a very short timeframe to go in individual groups, have ideas and incubate them,” Schloss said. “I expect the majority of them get killed, but the gems will come out, and once we’ve proven that they’re a real business with customer need, and they generate a successful return on what investment that will be required, then they move into the Mobility Business Group to be scaled.”

Those more mature experiments, when they demonstrate true market viability, will live in Ford’s new  Mobility Business Group, which is part of the new mobility structure, and which is home to Chariot, as well as Ford Commercial Solutions, and the automaker’s non-emergency medical transportation business. It also plays host to FordPass, and any of Ford’s digital service businesses including those focused on self-driving vehicle opportunities, and in-vehicle offerings in general.

“The businesses that are in [the Mobility Business Group] today, and I think you’ll see the digital service piece, those are businesses that are in development today, but clearly businesses that we believe we can scale, and that have a real demand need for them,” Schloss explained. “And then the third piece is the stuff that will come out of Ford X.”

Ford is also creating a new Mobility Platforms and Products sub-group, which will focus on stuff like managing vehicle fleets as a service, the AV partnership platform that counts companies including Lyft, Domino’s, and Postmates as members, and its forthcoming Transportation Mobility Cloud platform.

Finally, Ford is establishing a Mobility Marketing and Growth division, which will focus (unsurprisingly) on global marketing efforts regarding its mobility businesses. The aim here is to increase visibility for its efforts, and to gain more buy-in not just from consumers, but also from city stakeholders, commercial parents and more.

Ford’s CES 2018 keynote signaled a major shift in focus for the carmaker, which is likely the most significant change in its business in its 100+ year history. CEO Jim Hackett focused entirely on Ford’s vision of the future of city transport during the presentation, highlighting how smart infrastructure and autonomous vehicles together might transform the way we move around urban environments. He even ended by bringing an ethicist on stage to discuss what this means in terms of our privacy.

The new structure of Ford’s Mobility group reflects this shifted focus, and should do a lot in terms of making it possible for Ford to more quickly develop and flesh out experimental new mobility offerings internally, using both existing resources, and people says it intends to hire in and around this field for the specific purpose of building out Ford X. Meanwhile, Ford says it will continue to work with partner Pivotal on its FordLabs software development program, and that its new mobility teams will all benefit from that continued partnership.