Ford announced Friday that it’s buying Chariot, a San Francisco-based shuttle service, and plans to expand it to at least five more cities over the next 18 months. The automaker is also creating a team focused on partnering with cities to provide transportation services.
Acquiring Chariot, which runs about 100 Ford vans that transport up to 14 passengers each along 28 crowdsourced routes throughout the Bay Area, gives Ford an established ride-hail-style network. The more than 100-year-old automaker said last month that it plans to put self-driving cars on the road through a ride-hail network by 2021. Chariot could be Ford’s means to do that.
“We’re working very hard to make sure we get that fully autonomous vehicle on the road in 2021 in a ride-hail type service, and certainly this will be one of the options,” Mark Fields, CEO of Ford, told BuzzFeed News.
Ford declined to say how much it paid for Chariot, but the startup raised $3 million from investors in April 2015. Ford also said Friday that it’s partnering with Motivate, the operator of New York’s bike share system Citi Bike, to offer 7,000 Ford bicycles called GoBikes in the Bay Area.
Chariot, which started in San Francisco in 2014, is just one of many startups Ford has partnered with recently. The auto manufacturer invested $75 million into Velodyne, a company that makes light detection and ranging sensors, last month. It has also invested in the Berkeley, California mapping startup Civil Maps and partnered with more than 40 other startups to develop new car technology.
In March, Ford created a subsidiary called Ford Smart Mobility to “design, build, grow and invest in new mobility services.” The Chariot acquisition is an example of that. (Ford has also been testing its own ride-hailing program called Dynamic Shuttle in Dearborn, Michigan.)
And Ford isn’t the only auto manufacturer to partner with upstart transportation companies. General Motors has invested $500 million in Lyft and is working on developing electric self-driving vehicles. And Uber has partnered with Volvo in a non-exclusive $300 million deal to develop a self-driving car.
San Francisco will be Ford’s first city partnership; some of the other partnerships will be international. Chariot, Fields said, is meant to complement public transportation. Ford already has plenty of competition in this race to be the new form of public transportation. Across the country, Uber and Lyft are partnering with public transportation agencies to make the cost of hailing comparable to hopping on a bus. For now, Chariot won’t be subsidized by public transportation agencies, but Fields told BuzzFeed News he wouldn’t rule out the idea.