Barely a year after the emergence of e-scooter start-ups, PHV majors and automakers ride the wave

It’s the price that new industries have to pay: rapid success attracts the big boys. Just over a year after the first electric scooter start-ups were founded, the Ford group announced last Thursday that it was entering the fray through its acquisition of Spin, one of the leaders on the American market.

This acquisition provides further proof of the boom in “micro-mobility” (self-hire bikes and scooters) and the increasing interest it is generating among car makers and private hire vehicle (PHV) majors.

And yet at the beginning, everything was so much simpler. In September 2017, the pioneer firm Bird, founded by a former Uber and Lyft executive, deployed its first scooters on the boulevards of Santa Monica in the outskirts of Los Angeles. The test proved conclusive and the start-up began to roll out its service in several cities along the Silicon Valley.

Lime and Bird ahead of the race

Very quickly, Bird was followed by other start-ups who had detected the potential, such as Lime, Scoot, Skip… and Spin. On this new market, Bird and Lime soon opened up a gap with their competitors. They are already established in more than a hundred cities around the world, including Paris. And they intend to move into another fifty cities between now and the end of the year. As for Spin, it is present in 13 American cities and university campuses.

As an illustration of investors’ enthusiasm for micro-mobility, Bird and Lime have already raised 467 million and 415 million dollars respectively since their founding days. As a result, they are valued at 2 billion and 1.1 billion dollars – the like of which has never been seen before in Silicon Valley – although some experts in US venture capital believe that these start-ups are overvalued.

Valuation apart, the number of trips they claim to have provided since their creation (10 million for Bird, 20 million for Lime) and their profit perspectives have acted as a catalyst for PHV majors who perceive these newcomers as serious competitors for city center transit.

The arrival of Ford, a first

Ford’s acquisition of Spin for an estimated 80-90 million dollars heralds a new phase in the micro-mobility market. It is the first time that a car manufacturer will be deploying a scooter service on a large-scale. And Ford makes no secret of its ambitions: it wants to be in 100 cities by 2020 to catch up with Bird and Lime.

Automakers see that car, bike and scooter sharing are starting to penetrate the market for journeys of up to 5 miles (8 kilometers),” explains the analyst Horace Dediu, the author of a well-known podcast on micro-mobility.

The final twist in the story is that while the Detroit corporation is investing in scooters, its rivals at Lime are branching out in the opposite direction. According to the website The Information, the start-up founded by Toby Sun and Brad Brao is planning to offer a shared electric vehicle service in Seattle.


Adrien Lelièvre/