VC @ SAE: Green Is Good

Ray Lane, managing partner of Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers, flew in from NoCal last night to make a keynote at the SAE 2011 World Congress in downtown Detroit.

Ray Lane, managing partner of Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers, flew in from NoCal last night to make a keynote at the SAE 2011 World Congress in downtown Detroit.

Kleiner Perkins is a leading venture capital firm.

Lane’s bio on the company’s website point out, “Since joining KPCB, Ray has sponsored several investments for the firm in enterprise and consumer technology, as well as clean and alternative energy. These companies include Ausra (solar concentrator), GreatPoint Energy (coal to gas conversion), Fisker Automotive (plug-in hybrid car), Th!nk NA (electric car), Luca Technologies (biologically enhanced gas recovery from fossilized hydrocarbons). . . .” There are more, but those named provide an insight into the fact that Lane is on the firm’s “GreenTech Team.”

The logo for the 2011 SAE Congress includes a drawing of a car formed out with a green line that happens to be an electric plug. Clearly the theme is one that is focusing on fuel efficiency.

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Lane had a number of salient points to the packed room in the Riverfront Ballroom. As in, “Venture capitalists show up where disruption is about to happen,” “You don’t see many   venture capitalists in automotive,” “And clean tech is an opportunity for venture capital.”

So if we (1) take into account he was there and he is a venture capitalist and (2) he went on to point out that there are energy supply issues (e.g., he says that the U.S. may be dependent on foreign sources of oil to the tune of 80% of the supply by 2020 and that talk of $300/barrel by then is not unheard) and environmental issues (“Hoping Al Gore is wrong is not a strategy”*), and then take into account the way that the Great Recession knocked many of the OEMs and suppliers for a loop, it seems that the first statement is correct: “Venture capitalists show up where disruption is about to happen.”

Lane made an interesting point, one that sounds like it could have come from former GM vice chair and quintessential car guy Bob Lutz: He showed a slide of about a half dozen current-model sedans from various OEMs, and he pointed out that he could not distinguish one from the other. He further pointed out that when he was growing up in the ‘50s and ‘60s, American car designs were second to none. He wondered what had happened to the passion.

So yes, you can be environmentally oriented and yet have passion about cars to boot. Especially if you’re going to be investing some serious money in the industry.

*Al Gore happens to be one of his colleagues at Kleiner Perkins

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The forthcoming Tesla Model S, a car thinks evinces some style.