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Ford may join Uber and Lyft in the ride-sharing business

Rick Newman
Columnist

Selling cars is big business, but there’s an even bigger one: transportation services, which includes things like taxis, shuttles and ride sharing. “We literally get none of that,” Ford Motor (F) CEO Mark Fields tells me in the video above, shot recently at the New York International Auto Show. “We look at that as a huge opportunity.”

That’s why Ford has set up a new “mobility” division to figure out ways the company can grow beyond the manufacture and sale of automobiles. When asked if Ford might get into the booming ride-sharing business, Fields says, “That may be one area we pursue, transportation as a service.”

Ford’s crosstown rival, General Motors (GM), has purchased the technology of failed ride-sharing service Sidecar, and invested $500 million in Lyft. In one new program, GM will provide vehicles for some Lyft drivers in a few cities, a possible first step toward a broader rental program. Virtually every automaker is developing self-driving cars that could be more popular in ride-sharing fleets than in consumers’ own driveways.

Ford has a pilot program in London that allows drivers to check out a Ford from one of about 25 locations in the city and use it as they wish, paying by the mile. The deal also includes guaranteed free parking. That model is more like Zipcar, which offers short-term rentals in urban areas, than Uber or Lyft, but future transportation offerings could include both rentals and ride-sharing. Similar programs will probably roll out in the United States eventually.

Another new offering, called FordPass, will be an app backed by live services that anybody can use, not just Ford customers. The automaker is still working out the details, but Fields says the service might allow users to prepay for parking, scout for a nearby rental or hail an Uber-like ride. It may also do some of the same things GM’s Onstar service allows, such as helping locate a car in a crowded parking lot or starting the car from a distance, with a smartphone app. “We’re thinking through all of that right now,” Fields says. “It’s very wide open.” Just like American roads used to be.

Rick Newman’s latest book is Liberty for All: A Manifesto for Reclaiming Financial and Political Freedom. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman.