Some of the biggest names in Silicon Valley have jumped into the electronic scooter business as it has rapidly grown from experimental West Coast start-ups to a multibillion-dollar industry competing in cities around the world.
Now one of America’s best-known automakers is jumping in the mix.
This week Ford, the legacy automaker from Detroit, announced that it has purchased Spin, a San Francisco-based electric-scooter-sharing company focused on the “last-mile” transportation market.
The $100 million purchase means Ford joins companies such as Alphabet, Uber and Lyft -- all of which have poured millions into the upstart e-scooter revolution.
“The number of mobility options available to people has risen dramatically in recent years,” said Sunny Madra, vice president of Ford’s innovations branch, Ford X, in an online statement. “In some situations, people use multiple forms of transportation during a single trip. The fast-paced, often experimental mobility sector requires businesses to keep up with agile and adaptable customers."
Unlike e-scooter behemoths Bird and Lime, which operate in dozens of cities and have expanded internationally, Spin scooters are available in 13 U.S. cities and campuses, including Coral Gables, Fla.; Washington, D.C.; Denver; Detroit; and Charlotte. The devices — which cost $1 to rent and 15 cents per minute to operate — are also available to students on campus at Troy University in Alabama, as well as at Duke University and a few others.
“We will continue to operate as a stand-alone business within Ford Smart Mobility, poised to expand aggressively,” the company’s founders said in a statement announcing their acquisition by Ford.
In his statement, Madra emphasized that Spin works “hand-in-hand with cities and universities,” “shares data with cities” and does not “launch without permission.” E-scooter companies such as Bird and Lime have angered city officials across the country by dumping their devices on city streets without permission before striking deals within weeks, after a local customer base has been established. As part of their operating agreements, officials in cities such as Portland, Ore., have begun demanding that e-scooter companies share transportation data with local government.
Spin has felt the wrath of local officials as well. After launching in San Francisco this year, Spin was one of several e-scooter companies barred from operation while the city developed a permitting process. When city officials launched a pilot program, Spin, along with Bird and Lime, was not among the beneficiaries.
As e-scooter companies fan out across the globe, they have brought numerous challenges with them, according to doctors, local officials and former riders.
Critics have slammed companies for ignoring local laws, but they’ve also been blamed for a rash of injuries among riders. In recent months, emergency room physicians have reported a stream of badly injured riders, many of whom have sustained severe head trauma and broken bones typically associated with motorcycle accidents.
The injuries have been blamed on reckless riders in many cases, but in others riders have said their injuries were caused by malfunctioning scooters, an issue that many experts blame on poorly designed vehicles and limited maintenance. Last week, The Washington Post reported that Lime had recalled thousands of scooters this summer after discovering that a small number of them may have been carrying batteries with the potential to catch fire.
Lime blamed Segway, which manufactures the vast majority of the world’s scooter fleet, including Spin. Responding several days later, Segway said its product is overwhelmingly safe and implied that Lime was responsible for the devices becoming fire-prone.
At least two people have been killed in accidents involving e-scooters in recent months, and companies such as Bird and Lime are facing multiple class-action lawsuits, one of which accuses the companies of “gross negligence.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the amount of the deal. This version has been corrected.