Ford has sold its electric scooter business, Spin, to one of Europe’s leading shared mobility providers. Tier Mobility will take over all of Spin’s operations, making it the Berlin-based scooter company’s first foray into North America. The firms declined to disclose the purchase price, though Tier’s CEO stated that it was an all-stock transaction.
Spin debuted in Seattle in March 2017 after collaborating with the city to develop a policy framework for regulating dockless bikes. Euwyn Poon, the company’s creator, was motivated to start a dockless bike startup after visiting Beijing and seeing the city’s growing interest in micromobility services. Following Bird’s success in Southern California, the business quickly shifted its focus to electric scooters.
A year later, at the height of the scooter boom, Ford paid $100 million for Spin, apparently at the request of former Ford CEO Jim Hackett, who was interested in diversifying into new kinds of transportation.
However, as the carmaker increased its investment in electric and self-driving vehicles, there was less and less place for costly side projects. Chariot, the company’s microtransit subsidiary, went out of business in 2019. In addition, Argo AI, the Ford and Volkswagen-backed autonomous car business, is rumored to be mulling a public offering. For nearly a year, Ford considered divesting itself from Spin, even hiring an outside counsel to evaluate its alternatives, including the potential of merging Spin with a special acquisition firm.
The announcement also comes less than a month after Spin laid off roughly a quarter of its workforce as part of a major restructuring that saw it withdraw from nearly every « open permit city » – places that do not limit the number of scooter operators through a regulatory system. This covered various cities in the United States, as well as countries in Europe such as Germany, Portugal, and Spain.
Meanwhile, Tier Mobility has been growing its European reach, most recently acquiring Vento Mobility, Wind Mobility’s Italian affiliate, and announcing a $200 million fundraising round for a total worth of $2 billion. Tier was launched in 2018 and already operates 250,000 vehicles — including electric scooters, bikes, and mopeds — in over 180 locations throughout 19 European and Middle Eastern nations. It competes with firms such as Bird, Lime, Voi, Dott, and Wind, as well as a few smaller ones.
Ben Bear, who took over as CEO of Spin in June 2021, praised the acquisition as a sensible step that will allow the company to advance. « When I took over as CEO, the goal that they set for me was to find a way to be a top-two global player in micromobility, » he explained, referring to his discussions with Ford. « And as we looked at our choices, we saw that combining with Tier is by far the best way to go. »
In a statement, Ford’s vice president of new business, Franck Louis-Victor, lauded the « amazing synergies » between Spin and Tier and heralded a « new era » for the combined scooter companies, which will « bring scale that’s sorely required in the competitive micro-mobility sector. » He also mentioned that Ford will continue to be a « strategic investor » in Tier.
Despite its popularity among riders, the early years of scooter sharing were marred by heavy losses. The industry struggled to correct its unit economics, in which the purchase price of each scooter outweighed the revenue it generated before eventually failing. Most businesses rely heavily on venture financing to keep their operations afloat.
The early scooters used by businesses like Bird, Lime, and Spin — which were largely purchased from Chinese companies like Xiaomi and Segway-Ninebot — weren’t designed for shared use and frequently broke down within weeks of being pushed out. However, during the last few years, scooter manufacturers have worked hard to develop stronger, more durable scooters in order to enhance average life span and improve unit economics.
Bear observed that Spin has worked hard over the years to improve its financial status, including a 50% increase in unit economics and a profitable year on an adjusted basis.
« What this combination actually affords us is a road to global leadership that didn’t really exist as a solo organization, » he explained. « This is what Tier does, and with SoftBank’s support, they’re in a position to play a long game and win the market, which we’re happy about. »
Tier CEO Lawrence Leuschner stated that the business intends to keep the Spin brand in North America and does not want to make any additional layoffs. Tier also intends to retrofit Spin’s scooter fleet with its swappable battery technology. The S-100T, Spin’s flagship scooter, was debuted last year and is the company’s first to offer a swappable battery.
« My impression was that the Ford guys are quite brilliant, and they truly believe in micromobility, » Leuschner told The Verge. « However, I believe we run this business across 400 cities, so there’s a lot more overlap in day-to-day operations, as well as technical stuff and [key performance indicators]. » We can genuinely compare our operations: how good is yours? How is the scooter doing in this location? How’s the scooter doing over there? As a result, I believe we will have a lot more synergies to use and improve the business. »
Leuschner said he agrees with Spin’s approach of exiting open permit cities and concentrating on markets with low competition. « I believe the total market, not just in the United States, but globally, will shift to a licensed model, in which the city will select two or three players, » he said. « That’s the way it’s going to be in the future. »