Defining Mobility for the Automotive Industry

| Ted Serbinski

As part of our continuing focus to spotlight innovative organizations and creative thinking in Detroit, here is a guest blog from our friend Ted Serbinski of Techstars in Detroit. Ted helps us better understand the enormous shift in the Automotive industry through technology innovation and integration. I also love his crisp definition of “mobility”. While this discussion is primarily focused on industry and vehicular mobility, I challenge you to also think more broadly about this definition in terms of “economic mobility”—technology that enables all citizens to access open data, to participate in the democratic process and to improve their economic standing by being “free and mobile”.

— Shelley Stern Grach

Mobility includes technologies and services that enable people and goods to move around more freely.

Since launching Techstars Mobility in Dec of 2014, the #1 question I get asked is: What does mobility mean? And the follow up: How does this relate to the automotive industry?

And to be honest, when we launched the program, I didn’t have a great way to answer this question. Thankfully, I had some friends that had a better sense than me. Fontinalis Partners, a VC firm co-founded by Bill Ford, along with Ford, and Magna all shared their perspectives with me. And it became clear: their definitions were different and changing frequently to address the rapidly expanding market. As with any new, emerging market, it’ll take time and experience to offer a clear and consistent definition.

Since launching the program, I’ve talked with and read over applications from more than 1000 startups in the mobility space. From the applications to our 2015 and 2016 programs, to general outreach, I’ve seen companies far and wide. And not just companies in the United States, but all over the world. Over the last 2 weeks I’ve talked with companies from Dubai, Moscow, Kiev, Buenos Aires, Vienna, Tokyo, Bangalore, Estonia, Cape Town, Chile, Lithuania, Kenya, Latvia, Germany, France, Sweden, Toronto, Mexico City, London, Portugal, Romania, Taiwan, and Italy to name a few 🙂

Mobility means so many different things from a global perspective.
How I define Mobility
After 18 months and reading nearly 1000 Techstars Mobility applications, I arrived at this succinct definition.

Technologies and services that enable people and goods to move around more freely

Simple and elegant. The key things to take away are:

  • Simple
  • No mention of automotive
  • Keywords: services and goods
  • Slightly vague but still specific enough without being verbose

Why This Definition
The world is changing incredibly fast. How people get from point A to point B is changing too.

The Underlying Automotive Change
When you combine all those factors, a perfect storm of change emerges to disrupt existing business models, especially in the automotive and transportation sector.

Automotive + New Technologies + New Services = New Business Models

Automotive is now too narrow of a term. A new term needs to be used to include all of these new technologies and services. And what better word than mobility.

What the Automotives Think
Bill Ford was years ahead of the industry. He introduced his “Blueprint for Mobility” back in early 2012. He talked about a future beyond traffic gridlock in 2011. And in 2009 he started Fontinalis Partners to invest in this emerging sector.

We become a piece of the mobility ecosystem. In this new world, we need to figure out what we have to own and what we don’t and to be a great integrator of technologies and services. We need to figure out who are friends, who are foes, and how do we turn our foes into friends. 
Bill Ford, Executive Chairman, Ford

Fast forward 4 years, and we’re seeing the automotive companies turning this vision into a reality. Looking at 2 of the Big 3, we see just that.

“As we’re thinking about the company, we’re thinking about ourselves not only as car, utility and truck company, but also as a mobility company” 
— Mark Fields, CEO of Ford

“Some might find this massive change to be daunting, but we look at it and see the opportunity to be a disruptor. We believe our decades of leadership in vehicle connectivity is fundamental to our quest to redefine the future of personal mobility.”
— Mary Barra, CEO of GM

The 2016 Automotive Shifts into Mobility
So what does an automotive company in transition to a mobility company, look like?

At the Detroit 2016 auto show, we saw a huge transformation in the perception of Ford.

Take a look at Ford’s booth compared to others:


Ford at the 2016 Detroit North American International Auto Show


2016 Detroit North American International Auto Show

To me, it was quite clear Ford felt more like a tech company than an auto company at the auto show.

But Ford is doing even more:

And GM is moving faster with bigger headline grabs:

Expanding our Definition
And that’s why I’m so excited that Techstars Mobility has partnered with Ford and others. We’re defining mobility for a whole new range of startups. And impacting the entire industry at the same time.

Taking our definition, here are the areas of most interest to us.


Key interest areas for Techstars Mobility in 2016

We’re looking at solutions that go across connected cars, trucking and multi-modal applications. Multi-modal referring to all modes of transportation, the glue, from getting you to point A to point B.

The automotive landscape is changing drastically and I’m excited to help play a small part in helping to define this new future of mobility.

Originally published at on April 6, 2016. To keep updated on Techstars Mobility and the growing intersection of Detroit’s automotive dominance and its entrepreneurial resurgence follow Ted on Twitter: @tedserbinski

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