Venture capital firm taps auto executives to scout mobility startups

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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 automaker 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.

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 firm 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.

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