* Ray Lane's departure adds to uncertainties for automaker
* Venture capitalist Lane was among firm's key supporters
* At least two groups interested in resurrecting Fisker
* Lane remains on board of other Kleiner-backed companies
By Deepa Seetharaman and Sarah McBride
DETROIT/SAN FRANCISCO, May 28 Fisker Automotive,
the cash-strapped "green" car maker that is seeking a buyer, has
lost an influential board member who was key in attracting
investors to the startup in its early days.
Ray Lane, 66, resigned from the board on Friday, Lane's
venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and the
car maker confirmed on Tuesday.
His exit comes as Fisker fields offers from at least two
different groups looking to resurrect the automaker, which hired
bankruptcy advisers this year.
One group, backed by Hong Kong billionaire and Fisker
investor Richard Li, is looking to buy the Fisker's government
loan for pennies on the dollar. This unusual strategy is favored
by some investors who would like Fisker to avoid a bankruptcy.
But Kleiner Perkins concluded it was better for Fisker to be
led by board members who supported the company's new options,
including the loan purchase, people familiar with the firm's
thinking said. This led Lane, partner emeritus at Kleiner
Perkins, to resign from Fisker's board.
Lane, who was not immediately available to comment, remains
on the boards of a handful of other Kleiner-backed companies.
Kleiner Perkins was an early investor in Fisker and Lane was
among the company's most visible and vocal supporters. The
backing of Kleiner Perkins and Lane helped Fisker raise hundreds
of millions of dollars in financing from private investors.
Despite a promising start and some celebrity fans, including
actor Leonardo DiCaprio, Fisker suffered some missteps during
the launch of the Karma which drained the company's coffers.
In early April, Fisker fired the bulk of its workforce to
save cash. The company has not built a car since July.
"Please be informed that Ray Lane has elected to resign from
the Fisker Automotive Board of Directors," Chief Executive Tony
Posawatz said in a message to Fisker employees on Tuesday.
"I would like to personally recognize and thank Ray for his
contributions to the company and wish him all the best in the
future," he added.
Li's group is trying to salvage the automaker by buying
Fisker's U.S. Department of Energy loan, now worth about $171
million. Fisker won the loan in 2009, but the DOE halted
payments in mid-2011 when Fisker missed certain performance
targets laid out in the loan agreement.
Fisker received $192 million of the full $529 million DOE
loan. Last month, the DOE seized $21 million from Fisker's
account to help repay a portion of the loan.
RAY LANE'S STRENGTHS
A separate group including former General Motors Co
executive Bob Lutz and China's largest auto parts maker,
Wanxiang Group, has offered to buy Fisker in a prearranged
One analyst said that Fisker appears to be evolving into a
boutique car company, which no longer plays to Lane's strengths.
"Ray Lane's contacts and the money he can bring are not as
useful in that context," said Alan Baum, principal of automotive
research firm Baum & Associates.
Lane joined Kleiner Perkins in 2000 after eight years at
Oracle Corp, where he helped take the software company
to $10 billion in revenue from $1 billion. Although his
expertise lay in software, he increasingly took on clean
technology, which became a focal point at Kleiner.
He led investments in companies ranging from Next Autoworks,
a Carlsbad, California-based fuel-efficient car company founded
by a former Oracle executive, to Chicago-based Great Point
Energy, which seeks to produce low-cost natural gas from sources
such as coal.
But many clean technology companies have not taken off in
the way they were hoped for just a few years ago. The 2008
financial crisis stifled investment in many alternative-energy
projects, while the explosion in natural gas development due to
"fracking" has simultaneously undermined the economics of many
of those projects.
In April, Lane resigned as chairman of Hewlett-Packard Co's
board as part of broader shakeup after the company took
a multi-billion dollar writedown.
One Kleiner-backed company on whose board Lane still serves
is Kenandy Inc, a business-software firm. Lane has not let
recent troubles distract him from his work there, said Kenandy
chief executive Sandy Kurtzig.
"We've always felt his attention was 100 percent with us,"
said Kurtzig in an interview.
When she tried to reach him by phone recently, he was about
to start the procession for the graduation ceremony at Carnegie
Mellon University, where he is chairman of the board of
trustees. He called her back within two hours, she said.