Small, Safe, Narrow and Harrowingly Fast: It’s Time to Tango


Before shoes were invented, two guys were walking through the mountains of Tibet. One man turned to the other and said, “I sure wish we could cover the world with leather.”

The other guy paused, looked at his friend, and said, “Or we could just cover our feet.”

It’s a common story, with many variations, but you get the idea.

Rick Woodbury, founder of Commuter Cars and maker of the Tango electric car, wants to apply that logic that to automobiles and change the way the world drives.

I had an opportunity to meet with Rick yesterday and ask him a few questions about the fastest urban car in the world. His company has been around for many years and has seen some success, but a potential deal looms that could catapult his company into the mainstream.

Rick speaks passionately about his company and the cars he builds. He tells the story of being stuck in traffic in Los Angeles in the early 1980s and noticing that almost every car stuck with him had a lone driver. To use his words,

I thought about what would be the solution. It was obvious that length of a vehicle was much less important than width for increasing freeway lane capacity in cars per hour. Making a car half as wide, or able to fit in a half lane with adequate clearance, would allow a doubling of lane capacity.

Commuter_Cars_TangoIt took about 20 years, but Rick’s company now builds the kind of car that he thinks can solve the problems of congestion and pollution. The Tango is about half the width of a normal car. I sat in one and could easily have an elbow of each arm out both windows at once.

This car isn’t just small and cute, though. It’ll accelerate from 0-60 in 3.2 seconds, is as stable in turns as a Porsche 911 and has a race-car roll cage built into the body. Instead of a regular seat belt it has a 4-point harness. Sitting in a Tango is like sitting in the cockpit of a fighter jet.

Rick excitedly speaks about his hope to provide cars that solve some of the world’s biggest problems. Instead of building bigger, wider highways, he believes narrower cars can save billions while meeting the same goal of easing congestion. That hope was fueled recently by the city of Auckland, New Zealand,  which has proposed putting 100,000 cars like the Tango into commission and thus solving motorway congestion within 4 years.

It’s ambitious, yes, but maybe it’s really no different than simply covering out feet, instead of the world, with leather.

Would you drive a Tango if it meant the end of traffic congestion?


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  1. I agree with Rick. I’ve ridden in the back of a Tango and felt perfectly safe. I’ve always felt safer in nimble cars, and there’s no nimbler car than the Tango.

    I also didn’t feel like the Tango was “tiny”. It felt “rightsized” to me. Plus, we don’t often think about how poorly designed a car with a passenger side is, but it’s really bad design to seat the driver to the left instead of in the middle of the car.

    Since most of the driving I would be doing in the Tango would be commuting in Chicago, the average miles per hour of trucks and cars with passenger sides on the road around me would average about 25 mph. It would be easy to navigate with confidence and a feeling of absoute safety. Given a narrow lane or even lane splitting, I would gladly drive a Tango to skip all the cars and trucks too wide to get by.

    Go Tango go.

  2. The safety benefit of a Tango is that you might avoid the contact with a Semi altogether. Some examples: If a truck drifts into your lane and you’re driving a Trailblazer, or most any other car, where are you going to go? With a Tango you can probably move over and accelerate or brake out of the way before he can even get into your lane.

    From actual experience, driving on a 2-lane windy road a pickup came half way over the double-yellow on a blind curve. The Tango probably saved us from a head-on collision. Second actual experience: Driving from Michigan Int’l Speedway to Ann Arbor two cars were passing each other, coming strait at me, and we passed 3-abreast at a closing speed of about 120 mph. Not sure of the outcome in any other car.

    At the summit conference for the X-Prze where I arrived safe and sound in Ann Arbor, David Champion, the head of Automotive Testing for Consumer Reports, announced that the Tango had the fastest time that they’d recorded through the emergency lane change maneuver, (moose test), Even beating the motorcycles, which could plan ahead for this test, which they can’t in real life: children running out from between cars, for example. The Tango, unlike a motorcycle, can turn instantly with no preparation or counter-steer to avoid an accident.

    Crash protection: Production cars emphasize crumple zone because they don’t have good intrusion protection. Airbags aren’t even allows in race cars which focus on rigid cages to keep other vehicles and other things out of the passenger compartment. The Tango has literally 4 times more side impact protection bars in the doors than a Volvo, Mercedes, or a Ford Excursion. If you were to look at doors in a junk yard, you’d find that the largest SUVs have only one bar in each door which is only attached by a spot-welded stamping. The Tango has 3 horizontal bars, and two vertical, like a NASCAR door, that are attached by TIG-welded 1/4″ steel plates to 1/2″ steel pins in the rear, where they attach to an FIA-certified roll cage, and $600 billet stainless hinges with 3/8″ pins in double sheer, which attach them to the roll cage in the front. The roll cage is certified by FIA under the same specifications used for a 200 mph race car.

    This is why I think the Tango is absolutely the safest car in the history of the automobile.

  3. Well, two years ago, my wife and I went for a ride on the front of a semi truck in our Trailblazer. Nobody was hurt as it was a low speed crash, but it was a priceless lesson in the physics of force, kinetic energy, and what happens when a 30,000 pound vehicle hits a 6,000 pound one.
    I suspect the outcome would have been quit different if we were driving something like a Smart Car, Scion TC, or this Tango. Don’t get me wrong, I really like these tiny cars, but with so many distracted cell phone zombies, thuggish truck drivers, yahoos in jacked pickup trucks, and half-blind old geezers on the roads (like me), I’d be afraid to drive one.

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