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Bicycle Infrastructure

Eyes on the Street: Tango Electric Car in Glen Park

11:05 AM PDT on August 13, 2010

Commuter_car_1.jpgLarry Page's Tango in Glen Park. Photos: Matthew Roth.

The Tango personal electric vehicle made a bunch of headlines when George Clooney bought one in 2005, but there haven't been too many on the road given the cost of $150,000.

The manufacturers pitch the vehicle as a high-performance electric car that can zip through traffic given its slender frame. Assuming you can split lanes legally (California is the only state where it is explicitly legal), you can use it as you would a motorcycle on congested roads. The Tango is also short enough that it can be parked perpendicular to the curb, just as a motorcycle would. 

Rick Woodbury, the President and Founder of Commuter Cars Corporatation, which has made 12 Tangos to date, said it was "designed it to be the fastest, safest, most convenient car for 90 percent of urban trips." 

Woodbury said the problem with traffic and commuting is a case of inefficient use of space, though his solution is not transit or bicycles, but narrower cars. "There are 106 million single-occupancy vehicles clogging the
streets. That's 106 million people using the wrong tool."

Woodbury said the ability to scale up production is hampered by money. He can build the current model at its sticker price at cost, but to sell it in the $10-15,000 price range, he would need around $1.5 billion in capital outlay to mass-produce the vehicle, an unlikely scenario without getting the buy-in of a major traditional car manufacturer.

"Car companies just don't invest in disruptive technology," said Woodbury.


He also noted that the public reaction was tempered by how different the
vehicle is, whereas a company like Tesla re-purposed the standard car
design with a different fuel source.

The Tango is built with a NASCAR-standard roll cage and the speed of a race car. The vehicle outperforms Tesla's cars in a head-to-head race, going 0-60 in under four seconds, and is only a hair slower than the fastest street-legal production car on the road, the $1.5 million Bugatti Veyron.

When asked why an urban car should be pitched as a performance vehicle, especially when speed is the most significant contributing factor to severity of pedestrian injuries in car crashes, Woodbury said "Speed is point A to point B."

"You can avoid pedestrians better than other cars," he added.

Though Tango didn't win the Progressive Insurance X Prize, the Tango was
a finalist and will be at the gala event at the Capitol in Washington
DC in mid September.

I saw this Tango in the pictures near the Glen Park BART Station in late July. Woodbury identified it as belonging to Larry Page, co-founder of Google.

My first thought when I saw it was all the space you could convert to bike lanes if more city cars were this thin. What do you think?

Commuter-car-2_1.jpgThe door zone is a lot smaller here.

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