For a company that’s done rather little outside of producing and selling cars, trucks, and SUVs for more than a hundred years, one would imagine that changing the formula and breaking into new areas of business might be a difficult undertaking.
Nevertheless, that’s precisely what Ford Smart Mobility means for Ford Motor Company: an addition to the usual core business which will one day see Ford claiming a slice of the $5.4 trillion revenue generated annually by the transportation industry, Ford CEO Mark Fields says. But for now, Ford Smart Mobility is being run like a startup, with numerous mobility experiments taking place around the globe. To better understand how Ford moves from that to a more solid, profitable transportation subsidiary, Forbes spoke to Ford Smart Mobility LLC CEO Rajendra “Raj” Rao at the AutoMobility LA conference last week.
Mr. Rao explained to Forbes and other outlets that as time goes on, Ford will learn from its mobility successes and setbacks, investing in those ventures that actually perform and incubating them into money-making services. One particularly promising venture is called Chariot, and it’s a San Francisco-based van-pool service acquired by Ford Smart Mobility back in September. Like the illegal (albeit perfectly moral) “dollar van” services of Brooklyn off of which Chariot was based, Chariot – which has since been expanded to Austin, Texas – can help supplement public transportation.
Rao says that Chariot provides a much-needed service to those with limited transportation options, and also has the opportunity to be quite profitable. For instance, cofounder and CEO Ali Vahabzadeh points to the opportunity of contracting with employers and event organizers to move large masses of people.
Surely not every experiment being conducted by Ford Smart Mobility is as safe a bet as Chariot, but each is part of a subsidiary which is attempting to reimagine what mobility means in urban centers in the 21st century; some number of failed ventures is inevitable. And in the future, after CEO Raj Rao and his team have assessed what’s worked and what hasn’t, Ford stands to gain a lot from its new mobility subsidiary.