While we’re all focused on driverless cars, are we missing the significance of the explosion of the eScooters-as-a-Service development? Electric scooter rental services popping like mushrooms around the U.S., having first appeared almost overnight in San Francisco, has not exactly gone under the radar. The vast sums raised by scooter start-ups and involvement of high profile tech companies such as Uber and rival Lyft means there has been press coverage. Now Ford, one of the biggest auto manufacturers in the world, has moved into the sector, buying Californian scooter start-up Spin for $100 million.
For a company like Ford, $100 million is a relatively small acquisition in the grand scheme of things. So why bother? It’s electric scooters, not exactly the latest technology in the world, and surely a fad that will have been and gone within a few short years. Or perhaps it’s an attempt for an historic car company that is, at least so far, not really in the autonomous vehicles race as a serious contender to appease investors which have criticised its conservative approach towards the next ‘big thing’ in transport technology. A $100 million PR statement that the company can move with the times, isn’t blind to technology trends and hasn’t become an old fuddy duddy of a company?
Or perhaps the full extent of the potential of the eScooters market hasn’t yet been fully grasped by most of us. Maybe scooters that we can pick up, jump on and then leave roughly where we want, the processed managed through an app like rental bikes now are in numerous cities, will become a fixture of the modern urban transport mix. Ford’s plans certainly seem ambitious with reports suggesting it plans to roll Spin’s service out to as many as 100 cities around the world by 2020.
Ford’s newly acquired Spin brand will compete with eScooter hire peers Lime and Bird. Lime was founded last year and has reached a valuation of $4 billion, based on investments made by the likes of Uber and Alphabet. Bird has a $2 billion valuation and, like Spin and Lime also has international ambitions. It launched a trial service in London’s Olympic Park earlier this week.
The biggest hurdle eScooter start-ups face to international expansion is regulation and transport laws. In the UK they are not currently allowed on public roads but the government is said to be considering loosening these laws. If that goes through, eScooters whizzing around London and other UK cities could have a much bigger short to medium-term impact on the public transport mix than driverless cars. Maybe Ford’s move for Spin is less of a left-of-field punt than it first appears.