Dancing with the Tangos

I’ve been a big fan of the Tango, an electric car, since I first read about it in Popular Science sometime in 2003. This was well before crude oil was even near $90 a barrel.

Since then, I consider myself lucky to have made acquaintances with Rick Woodbury, the president of CommuterCars Corporation and manufacturer of the Tango. Recently, several DVD’s he had were made available to me and featured some raw footage of the Tango in action along with several clips of news footage.

So, last night, I got to upload a video I made with what he provided me for material and culminates my 5 year passion with an electric car that’s as wide as a motorcycle, as fast as Ferrari, and can take advantage of numerous energy sources which don’t require drilling. George Clooney beat me to being one of the first owners of such a distinctive car which is also in the running for the Progressive X-Prize.

If you care to join in, feel free to watch my video “Dancing with the Tangos”



The concept behind the car is very interesting. -I’m not sure if the driving style shown in the video helps the cause though…

The 2 drivers constantly weave in and out of lanes, cut corners, turn wide, and tailgate each other on what appears to be a public road. The cones that they slalom through at the start appear to be their for safety reasons - again on a public road. They also share a lane and pass on the inside and at the 52 second mark appear to be going the wrong way on the wrong side of the road.

I know the intent is to convey excitement but to many I think it makes it seem that the Tango is more like a go-kart let loose on the streets than a serious effort at changing attitudes towards driving electric/small cars…

I’m not saying there should be a granny driving it…
But perhaps the slalom should be done on a closed course…

at 1:54 the front left tire lifts off the pavement slightly…SCARY!

Looks like fun and a great start, but with how narrow it is i cant help but think its gonna roll over.

electric cars are all good, but sorry, this thing is fugly. too narrow, poor design will condemn it to a poor future IMHO.

doesn’t even look that fun to drive, compared to say, similar small cars like a mini or smartcar…

similar 1 seat cars like the ariel atom or the BMW C1 do much better to provide similar feeling and should be what these guys are going for rather than econobox styling and performance.


wow, tough crowd, but certainly not unexpected

The drivers weave in and out of lanes, cut corners, turn wide, AND tailgate? Are you sure you’re watching the right video?

The cones that “they” or, more correctly, one Tango slaloms through certainly “appears” to be there for safety reasons. Or maybe they are there for him to slalom through. I don’t know.

As far as lane sharing is concerned, that’s the basic premise behind the design of the Tango. A large majority of commuters are driving 4- to 5-passenger cars daily with a single occupant. Why?

At the 52 second mark, he was driving 3 mph in a parking lot…not really a big deal to me, unless of course, you yourself have an impeccable driving record and can judge someone for such a petty act. Someone backing out of a parking space is going the wrong direction against the arrows on the pavement. I do not have an impeccable driving record, so as long as he doesn’t kill anyone or damage my car or anyone elses property I think most people would care less. 1 minute of browsing YouTube will reveal a wider gamut of extreme human behavior behind the wheel of something with wheels:

By the way, this is a go-kart let loose on the streets…

Not even the same ballpark.

I included in the video I made a slalom on a closed course, so I can only assume you didn’t even watch the whole video.

if you think that’s scary, you should see a Lamborghini Gallardo hitting, at speed, a speed bump.

Do you think this will prevent people from buying future Lamborghini’s?

I think not.

First, as a designer with some assumed credential, are you really suggesting that people commute to work 5 days a week in an Ariel Atom? Sure, that would be fun if it wasn’t raining, snowing, dust storming, heat waving, and didn’t mind hitting bugs with my teeth at 50mph or sitting in traffic with the tail pipe of a box van exhausting in my face. I would also have to not be afraid I wouldn’t be seen sitting so low to the ground. And the fact that you are saying the BMW C1 is a car? It’s a motorcycle with a canopy. If you left it standing without the kick stand or driving too slow, it would fall over.

From a performance perspective, the Tango would leave a Mini AND a Smart Car in the dust. If you think those two cars are exciting then you definitely wouldn’t like the Tango, it might be too much for you to handle. It has 1000 lb-ft of torque @ 0rpm. By comparison, a Bugatti Veyron has 962 lb-ft of torque at 2250 rpm.


And poor design? First, here are the very real problems that inspired the design of the Tango:

1.) Single occupant vehicles crowding our highways are the primary cause of traffic jams. Which would be cheaper and save tax payers money (i.e you and me)? Building wider roads or driving smaller cars?


2.) Lack of parking in the city for these cars driven by 1 person. 4 Tangos would fit in the same parking spot a Hummer or Ariel Atom would occupy.

3.) Our dependency on foreign oil. $3000 in solar panels is all you would need to charge the Tango. With the rising price of oil, that investment is already less than the ANNUAL fuel budget of most cars on the road today. In 5 years, if prices don’t go up, you’ll spend more than $15,000 in gasoline alone.

But, now, with my design researcher hat on, your comments represent some of the challenges that my friends at CommuterCars face:

1.) It looks like it’ll fall over is probably the most common negative feedback. The Tango has a rollover threshold of a Porsche 911 aided by its super-low center of gravity with 2500 lbs. of batteries underneath the Sparco racing seats. Perception of hazards that don’t exist are a hurdle. Not to say it won’t roll over but SUV’s roll over all the time and are also part of the problem with our dependency on foreign oil, traffic jams, and safety.

What are the odds someone sitting in a Range Rover will see an Ariel Atom to their right? And if the driver of the Range Rover is on a cellphone merely increases the invisibility of the Ariel.

Is design to you strictly about form?

Or is design about form following function? Because that pretty much explains why the Tango looks the way it does. And it certainly does more for traffic woes than any other car on the market.

So, you’re certainly entitled to your opinions of it being fugly, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

The fact of the matter however is that car makers are struggling to get rid of their SUV’s, trucks, and other large vehicles. Car designers, marketing firms, and ad agencies have all profited off of that segment yet the people who work at the factories are laid off while manufacturers scramble to make something worth selling.

That, to me, is fugly, and my two cents.

Jerry: I glad I held my comments back!

My initial reaction was the same, “that things looks like it will flip”. It is narrow and also taller than the other cars in your video. The height made me think that the batteries were stored under the floor. Nickel is a hell of a lot heavier than flesh, so I figure the COG must be pretty low. Same roll-over resistance as a 911…I hope so, that would be hot!

I think the Tango seems to suffer the same perception issues that other decently-thought out transport solutions face.

Lastly, I live in Canada, and I would commute daily year round in an Atom. If the company is interested in giving me one to try, shoot me an email! I’m crazy though :slight_smile:

haha…well, I certainly don’t mean to discourage people from sharing their thoughts.

but, be forewarned, I just might have a rebuttal.

If you live in Canada, then I think by default you’re already crazy. :wink:

Rick Woodbury used to race Porsches so I think he would be a fair judge in the Tangos attributes. And his life story really attracted me to his company:


And if the company was going to give away a Tango, you can be number two in line there buddy.

I do love cars, I’ll share that much with you. And in my lifetime, the Tango is easily the most radical I’ve seen come from manufacturer.

I equate the first time I looked at it kind of like when people had horses and seeing for the first time ever a Model T.

There were those who rebuffed it, then those who saw it for what it was, and then those who saw it for what it could be. I’m of the latter. Sure, maybe it could use some aesthetic make-over. Every single car that comes off the assembly line has had something about it modified to suit the buyer. For example, Corvettes have Lingenfelter, Mustangs have Saleen, Porsches have Ruf and Gemballa. For every other car, there’s Advance Auto Parts.

But for pure function, I think the Tango is perfect and would be a shot in the arm for urban dwellers. The infrastructure for electric power is suitable for the Tango in the city. The future of its innovation will come from being able to rapidly and effectively charge it with a simple 120v outlet.

I realize that your video is a testament to your enthusiasm for the Tango and isn’t intended to be a “safety video”. And further - I agree, the infractions shown are generally very minor. My point is simply that when shown collectively they may contribute to the perception that the Tango may be unsafe. That perception certainly exists as demonstrated though the other replies in this thread.

Aside from all of the normal production issues involved in creating a new automobile I believe that the perception of personal safety will be a major challenge for the Tango folks. Hopefully they succeed - but it will not be easy.

As far as lane sharing is concerned, that’s the basic premise behind the design of the Tango.

Personally I am “pro” lane splitting/sharing as it has proven to be effective in helping reduce congestion. It should be noted though that the practice is still officially illegal in every US state with the exception of California. It isn’t always enforced but it certainly isn’t encouraged.


And finally…
Thanks for correcting the grammar on my original reply.
As soon as we rid the world of over-sized pollution spewing SUVs, grammatical misuse on online discussion boards should be next on the list.
Sorry - I think that may have been a run-on sentence.

The perception of personal safety…

I have to admit this is probably the easiest and hardest challenge. I recognized this early on but I still don’t know how to get people to accept that the Tango is safe without having them drive it. I can understand the physics of it but for the average consumer, the unknown isn’t usually a good thing.

It’s easy, at least in my eyes to know the Tango is safe. At least safer than a motorcycle. In the realm of roadgoing transportation, the Tango fits like this:

(Semi)(Large truck)(SUV)(Truck)(Car)(Tango)(Motorcycle)(Moped)(Bike)

The hard part is getting people to “see” that it’s just as safe as anything else on the road today, if not safer. The Tango is so totally unlike any other car that it’s hard for people to try to fit it in the car category. So it’s a struggle to accept it if it can’t be traditionally categorized.

The Tango has a full NASCAR roll-cage and 4-point racing harnesses. This is the same set up in some race cars which don’t even have air bags.

But the “safety” issue is ethereal, biased, and extremely complex.

It’s a law that manufacturers have to put all of this “safety” equipment in cars like seatbelts, airbags, and the like…yet people still die in car accidents because they weren’t wearing their seatbelts or disengaged an air bag. And its biased in the sense that I can drive a motorcycle, without a helmet, wearing nothing but speedos and a t-shirt (try not to visualize but assume I have on zero safety equipment) because I have the right to do so. But I can’t drive without a seatbelt.

The laws, in regards to our transportation, doesn’t make any sense. Primarily because if people disobey God’s commandments what makes people think they’ll follow a law?

My argument is that the Tango is definitely safer to operate than a motorcyle. And drier. I pretty much just leave it at that when it comes to talking about the law and the rights of citizens.

Ok, took another look at the vid and website to add some more in-depth comments. my initial reply wasn’t meant to be so negative perhaps as it came across, and certainly nothing personal if you know the guy who did it or were at all involved.

In terms of lanesharing and congestion, i see it as both a good solution, and also a problem. for sure, most people don’t need big heavy SUVs, but also there is something to be said for cars that hold more than one person in their ability to decrease congestion via carpooling. maybe for a single guy, this would make sense, but for the majority of people that often ride with someone else I guess this isn’t the thing, and in principle, having each person with their own car would lead to more congestion and pollution, not less.

As for perception of stability, performance, etc. this is a big issue. as has been mentioned by others, perception is key in consumer products, esp. in cars. hence the “go faster stripes”, vents, spoilers and “aero” styling that many cars employ to give a fast look… this can’t be overlooked. if it goes fast but looks slow, it might as well be slow from a consumer perception. If it looks like it tips over, it IS unsafe as far as the consumer is concerned. You just can’t get around this perception issue. the car does actually seem to quote some pretty impressive performance numbers, and apparently is safe, which is great, but the perception needs to be addressed and you can’t blame the consumer here, sorry.

design is all about perception. making a product ease to use, buy including affordances (color, form, etc.) that guide the user to have certain perceptions that are in line with the function. making a product appear higher value through choice of materials and perceptual cues. making a product look fast through styling. I’d say the Tango may be engineered, but isn’t designed as a result of the above. Looks unsafe, looks slow, looks old. everything the opposite of what is actually is. They need to hire a designer over there stat (and a good graphics/marketing guy while their at it. the name and website need a major overhaul).

In terms of styling, I’ll elaborate on my previous comment- It looks slow, it looks awkward, it looks like a kit car, and doesn’t have much appeal in my eyes. Like a bastard child of a smart car, Tata nano with a bit of washing machine thrown in perhaps, all squished by a car crushing machine.

I also question why it needs to be so high. This thing would be much more s3xy if it was more of a coupe profile, lower, wider and still single seat perhaps, but basically something like a mini cooper or BMW 1 series if even still more narrow than most. that could be hot.

The ariel atom isn’t that practical I know, I meant the reference only to the styling, performance and “wow” factor that the Tango certainly lacks.

I don’t see what’s so revolutionary here, to be honest, though it’s always nice to see a different approach to the same problems of transportation. Until the above issues get resolved however, this is something I highly doubt will go anywhere (no pun intened) in the consumer market. esp. considering it’s competing to some extent with things like this:


For the record, I do appreciate everyone’s feedback even if I don’t totally agree with them. What’s funny is that I was really looking for comments about the video itself (lighting, editing, music, etc.) and got a little more than expected. So the fact that I got that additional information is good from a design research perspective.

As far at the Tango’s performance credentials, I think it’s great. Styling is definitely a result of its function and I’m a big fan of hatchbacks for that reason so I don’t really disagree with what they’ve accomplished with giving it its look for something that’s never existed before. And from a manufacturing perspective, I think its great because it’s actually assembled from some existing car parts (the wheel bearings and axles come from a Cadillac and the doors are actually from a Geo Tracker) which it has as an advantage over some of the more radical car concepts like the Aptera. And as far as affordances are concerned, egress and ingress is a deal easier than say getting into a Ford GT or McLaren F1. It has some creature comforts like a cupholder and it is even possible to use BOTH doors as armrests.

The height issue, to me, is easy to overcome. Currently, the Tango is only 60" tall. A Smart ForTwo is .7" taller:


But it does look taller perhaps because of its proportions and its there that I agree with most people in that it “looks” like it may tip over. I’ve attached a sketch which I thought may help out in that department by adding a bit more width which, I think, will sway some of those perceptions while also adding a bit of a “racing” look. It’s just one sketch of an infinite amount but reflects some of my thinking in making it appear more stable.

About the sketch:

I thought the bodywork could aid in power generation by means of an aerodynamic feature where the ducting would be embedded with mag-lev wind generators. There would also be sensors and cameras (beneath the rear tailights and near the bottom of the rear fenders) that would assist with an autonomous feature so that maybe the Tango could park itself and come pick you up. I also liked the idea of adding two charging ports so that the Tango would be kind of like a big 9-volt battery. On the existing Tango, you can see the tow hooks which really don’t do alot for aesthetics. I figured with some proper engineering they could be hidden away and deployed when needed. Also, one reason for the shape of the bodywork near the ground was so that the Tango could go over speedbumps without damage. However, if the Tango had a rheomagnetic suspension, it could raise and lower itself when needed in situations like encountering speed bumps. Thus, bringing the bodywork closer to the ground would give the Tango “visual” stability especially with wider tires. Lastly, who wouldn’t want all-wheel direct drive motors in the wheels?

Thanks again everyone, and please feel free to share your comments. It’s a dream of mine to work there so whatever knowledge I can gain is appreciated.

I’m still working on this perspective drawing but you can get an idea behind my design direction.

As a former VW Rabbit GTI owner, some of the GTO body kits for the Rabbit was my inspiration:

Some additional footage of Tango:
From Energyrush TV(with psychadelic graphics):

Something in German(with snow drifting footage):

SEMA Coverage (where the interviewer asks how to get into the back seat):

Google TechTalks(24 minutes in length):