Kleiner-Backed V-Vehicle’s Headquarters Remains in San Diego—For Now

7/2/10Follow @bvbigelow

San Diego has learned from years of painful experience that being the hometown of a corporate headquarters is an insecure relationship that depends entirely on the fidelity of the company’s CEO. So it seemed inevitable that San Diego-based V-Vehicle would move its headquarters to the San Francisco Bay Area after the wheels came off the automotive startup on March 24th.

That was the fateful Wednesday when the U.S. Department of Energy rejected V-Vehicle’s application for $320 million in loans ($70 million for engineering and $250 million for manufacturing) under the agency’s Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing program.

The DOE decision appeared to take V-Vehicle by surprise. Within a week, founding CEO Frank Varasano left the company—along with Horst Metz, the vice president of assembly operations. Ray Lane, V-Vehicle’s founding chairman and a managing partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers, stepped in as interim CEO. So it seemed it was only a matter of time until V-Vehicle moved its headquarters from San Diego, where Varasano lives, to someplace near Lane’s office in Menlo Park, CA.

V-Vehicle Headquarters

V-Vehicle Headquarters

Something like that still seems likely to happen. Lane continues to run the four-year-old startup on an interim basis from Menlo Park, while Kleiner Perkins conducts an active search for a replacement CEO, according to David Langness, a spokesman for V-Vehicle in Los Angeles. Langness tells me that most of V-Vehicle’s corporate functions, including finance and operations, remain at the startup’s leased office space in downtown San Diego’s East Village.

V-Vehicle has raised about $87 million in venture funding, and Kleiner Perkins (which also is backing electric carmaker Fisker Automotive of Irvine, CA) is not the only big-name involved. Other prominent investors include the billionaire oilman T. Boone Pickens (who was calling for a switch to natural gas-powered vehicles), and Google Ventures. But the VC money represents only a fraction of V-Vehicle’s capital requirements, so the Energy Department’s rejection has pushed the startup to the precipice. The company still needs the federal loans, along with almost $90 million in Louisiana state and local government financing, to build its automotive assembly plant in Northeastern Louisiana.

Lane, who was the president and COO at Oracle before joining Kleiner Perkins, travels frequently between Menlo Park and San Diego, as well as Monroe, LA, where V-Vehicle still hopes to refurbish a shuttered plant, and Detroit, where the company also maintains an office. Tom Matano, the celebrated Mazda designer who was recruited as V-Vehicle’s director of design, continues to work … Next Page »

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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