Dearborn, Mich.-based Ford Motor Co. announced today that it would be spinning off its mobile services division into a separate but wholly-owned subsidiary, Ford Smart Mobility LLC.

The new company, which according to a March 10 press release will be “designed to compete like a startup,” will be led by Jim Hackett, former CEO of office furniture maker Steelcase, who resigned from Ford’s board of directors to serve as chair of the new subsidiary, and include offices in both Dearborn and Palo Alto, Calif.

Its founding team, which company spokesperson Mike Moran said is still being selected by Hackett, will collaborate both with Ford’s existing product development, research, advanced engineering, marketing, and data analytics staff, and with startups and other tech companies on mobile services and ventures that are “commercially promising,” according to the release.

When asked if the new company would have a separate brand identity, or had plans to enter the Canadian market, Moran replied that it was too early to tell.

Egil Juliussen, an automotive industry analyst with Minnesota-based IHS Automotive Technology, said that Ford’s announcement was consistent with statements the company’s executive chair, Bill Ford, has made in recent years.

“In presentations, both he and the current CEO, Mark Fields, have had the vision that they need to be in both the auto industry making cars, and also in the transportation services industry,” Juliussen said. “Putting [mobile transportation services] essentially into a separate subsidiary where they can focus on it tells you that they’re more serious about it, that they’re going to invest in it, and that they’re going look at different ways to use it.”

Indeed, last year at CES Fields announced the formation of what his company called a “Smart Mobility Plan” – a series of experiments aimed at revolutionizing the transportation industry, including GoPark, a predictive parking system in London capable of directing drivers to streets where they are most likely to find a space; GoDrive, a car sharing program, also in London, that provides vehicles with guaranteed parking at busy locations; and Dynamic Shuttle, a Dearborn-based program that allows Ford employees and visitors to request point-to-point rides on demand.

Nor is the company a stranger to new technology: Ford currently owns the industry’s most popular entertainment and communications system, Ford Sync, and claims to have the largest test fleet of autonomous vehicles of any automaker.

In a statement regarding Ford Smart Mobility, Ford CEO Fields called the mobile transportation services market, which is currently worth $5.4 trillion in annual revenue, a “significant” growth opportunity, adding that the new subsidiary will allow Ford to compete in both an auto manufacturer and mobile services industries.

The new company will also be funding data science and analytics research: for example, Ford researchers recently collaborated with IBM on a pilot platform that allowed them to analyze tiny snippets of data – just 10 or 15 seconds at a time – for patterns, correlations, and trends, and to write code to make the company’s Dynamic Shuttle experiment more efficient.

“If you look at a long-term perspective – 10 years down the line, when we’re going to have lots of driverless cars, then mobility is really going to be an important and growing technology,” Juliussen said. “So Ford is positioning itself to be a leader in that. I would say… it’s a positive move for Ford.”

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  • Beat Bucher

    That’s a good news.. Now let’s just hope that the new Ford mobility strategy will also include the loyal base of Ford car owners that have been waiting on updates for their My Sync systems, but asked to pay several hundreds of $$$ to get updates on something that should be provided as a life-time support for free.. When buying a car many tens of thousands of dollars, asking the customer to pay more to get a shitty software update is just dumb and totally wrong on the marketing side of things.

    • jimr123456789

      Providing free or very cost effective software updates is a must. On an older car we have the GPS maps is outdated. New Map update is $750. I would expect a free software update for critical issues or at least every 3-5 years (out to 20 years).
      At least the tech companies, Microsoft/Apple, provide free updates for an expected life time of the software.

      • Beat Bucher

        Absolutely.. as an IT pro I could imagine myself replacing the embedded mapping SW by something else, but that’s not something every Joe Common could do by itself… but selling a CD/DVD for 750$ to just get updated maps is a shame. Even off-the-shelf portable car GPS units offer that for free nowadays.