Autos

Venture capital firm taps auto execs to scout mobility startups


A venture capital firm co-headquartered in Detroit and Berlin is hoping to use its proximity to traditional automotive powerhouses to compete with Silicon Valley VC firms in the hot space for mobility-focused startups.

Assembly Ventures, co-founded by a former partner at a VC firm closely associated with Bill Ford, executive chairman of Ford Motor Co.,has enlisted some Motown muscle to help steer mobility startups from concept to reality. That includes Ford’s former automotive president, Joe Hinrichs, who left the carmaker last year in an executive shakeup, and Tony Posawatz, former chief executive officer of Fisker Automotive and ex-vehicle line director of the electric Chevrolet Volt at General Motors Co.

Mobility startups, especially those producing electric and self-driving vehicles, have become darlings of Wall Street, as investors have awarded many with frothy valuations on expectations of following in the tire tracks of Tesla Inc., the world’s most valuable automaker. Assembly Ventures aims to keep Detroit and Germany — the birthplaces of the original automotive age — in the center of transformation and not cede control to the tech investors that bankrolled onetime startups like Uber Technologies Inc.

The new VC was co-founded last June by Chris Thomas, who helped start Detroit’s Fontinalis Partners with Bill Ford in 2009. At Fontinalis, Thomas guided self-driving startup nuTonomy, which was eventually acquired by major automotive software supplier Aptiv Plc for $450 million. Thomas founded his new firm with Felix Scheuffelen, who previously managed a transportation consortium in Germany, and Jessica Robinson, a former Ford mobility executive.

“We wanted to build something that was made up of the best investors and operators in the mobility sector,” Thomas said in an interview. “This truly is a global opportunity, one that can’t be constrained to any one geography, or shouldn’t be.”

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Thomas declined to say how much seed money Assembly Ventures has to spend or who its top investors are. He also would not name any startups being targeted, but said the firm plans to make its first strategic investment later this year.



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