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Ford expands its mobility empire with a couple of acquisitions

Autonomic and TransLoc will help Ford broaden its microtransit and cloud-based services

Photo by Sean O'Kane / The Verge

Ford Motor Company announced today that it was acquiring two transportation software companies, Autonomic and TransLoc. It also announced it would be reorganizing its mobility subsidiary in a bid to accelerate the delivery of new products, like microtransit services and self-driving cars. The news comes as the automaker’s stocks remained stagnant despite a raft of high-profile announcements during CES and the Detroit Auto Show about its investment in mobility services and electric cars.

Ford didn’t disclose the sum of the acquisitions, but did say the two startups would help develop the automaker’s forthcoming Transportation Mobility Cloud, an open-sourced platform for cities and other transportation partners. Ford said it would expand its Chariot microtransit service to more cities this year, beyond the five cities in which it presently operates.

And would also be creating a new marketing and growth division, which will focus on global marketing efforts regarding its mobility businesses. The aim here is to increase visibility for its efforts, and to gain more buy-in not just from consumers, but also from city stakeholders, commercial partners, and more.

Lastly, Ford said it is creating a tech incubator called “Ford X,” which will serve as the automaker’s loosely-run R&D division that is separate from the business side of its Smart Mobility LLC.

In a conference call with reporters, Ford Mobility president Marcy Klevorn said the acquisition of Autonomic and TransLoc will help add to the talent pool that the company was building up around its mobility projects.

Buying Autonomic “help build out the value of the Transportation Mobility Cloud and help monetize that,” Klevorn said. “And then from TransLoc’s perspective, they’re really already selling products to cities, and have a good cities sales force there. We viewed that as a way to get a really fast start in those areas and build on the foundation that we’ve already laid.”

Ford X will be overseen by Autonomic CEO Sunny Madra. Ford wouldn’t disclose how many employees would be on the team, nor how much money they would be allocated. “The concept is small dollars, small teams, short time frame, fast determination,” said Ford Mobility CFO Neil Schloss. “Some will fail, some will be gems. And the gems will scale, and that’s when the capital comes in. But the key here is to get the ideas processed really quickly and fail on some and win on others.”

Last October, Ford acquired a stake in Palo Alto-based Autonomic to build a basis for future iterations of mobility services. At CES in January, it announced its plans surrounding connected cars and self-driving delivery services, positioning itself as a sort-of operating system for the future of mobility. And at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Ford said it would more than double its investment in the production of electric vehicles, promising to spend $11 billion on the technology by 2022.

Whether these back-to-back-to-back announcements will help buoy Ford’s financial situation remains to be seen. The company remains strongly profitable, but its sales are stagnant, its costs have increased faster than expected, and its margins have failed to meet targets. In May 2017, Mark Fields was replaced by Jim Hackett as CEO amid a larger management shuffle. The company faces an uncertain path with support of its investors, and right now, Wall Street is paying more attention to Ford’s rivals, like GM, than to Ford itself.