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.

Venture Capital Firm Taps Auto Execs to Scout Mobility Startups

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.”

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.

EV Boom

Even traditional automakers such as GM and Ford have sought to tap into that boom by showcasing their plans to roll out more EVs. GM recently pledged to stop producing gasoline-powered vehicles altogether by 2035 and Ford announced Wednesday all its passenger vehicles sold in Europe would be fully electric by 2030. Adam Jonas, an analyst at Morgan Stanley, declared the internal combustion engine all but dead in a Feb. 16 research note titled “The end of the ICE age.”

Former Ford executive Hinrichs, who previously joined the board of a startup developing technology for self-driving cars, said in an email he was attracted to Assembly Ventures in part because of its focus on southeast Michigan and the firm’s aim to leverage the expertise of the traditional industrial centers in Germany and Detroit.

From Germany, the new VC also enlisted the advisory services of Philipp von Hagen, who sat on Porsche SE’s executive board. Von Hagen said in a statement he signed on with the VC to help “transform the mobility ecosystem.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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