Kleiner Perkins' Latest Green Car Play: The Anti-Fisker


Venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers wants a bigger piece of the green car pie than the slim slice it could get through its investment in Fisker Automotive. While Fisker aims to produce affordable cars for the mass market if DOE loans come through, it is starting out with a high-end performance vehicle, the $87,900 plug-in hybrid Fisker Karma. Now Kleiner Perkins partner Trae Vassallo says that the firm has backed an electric or hybrid vehicle company working to make cars at “the other end of the spectrum” from Fisker, as Greentech Media’s Jeff St. John reports. St. John writes that Vassallo described the company as “really focused on driving volume to make a difference.”

This reinforces the strategy described by Kleiner’s Ray Lane at last year’s Fortune Brainstorm Green conference, where Lane, RockPort Capital’s Wilber James and Think Global CEO Jan-Olaf Willums announced plans to bring Think’s electric City car to the U.S. at prices lower than the Toyota Prius through Think North America, a joint venture. At the time, Lane said, “Most electric vehicles being developed today are coming off the design board or getting manufactured, or starting to get test vehicles on the road. This is ready for mass production.”

So the fact that Kleiner sees opportunities in cleaner cars for the mass market makes sense. But we have to wonder if Vassallo was referring to the Think venture, or another company already jockeying for the mainstream, such as Miles EV, which closed a Series B round of funding to develop its first highway-capable plug-in sedan in late 2008, and has so far opted out of applying for government funds. Miles plans to announce a new strategic partner next week that spokesperson Kara Saltness tells us was “finalized this past month after several months of negotiations” at the unveiling of the sedan, priced for the higher end of the mass market at $45,000. Update: Saltness tells us Kleiner has not invested in Miles.

Then again, if we’re really talking the opposite end of the spectrum from Fisker’s slick, sporty Karma, that points to Bright Automotive, which aims to have its lightweight plug-in hybrid van making inroads in commercial and government fleets in less than five years. Bright CEO John Waters told us in March that the company needs to secure $400 million in Department of Energy loans or raise capital from private equity markets ($400 million over three years) before June 1 — two days from today — in order to reach its targeted U.S. rollout in the fourth quarter of 2012.

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