Wednesday, April 25, 2012



First Tango to be Sold Outside of the U.S.

I was recently invited to speak at the TransTrans Summit Conference in New York. Unfortunately, I was too busy here getting a Tango ready to ship to Exeter in the UK, that I didn't have time to make it. I'm thus taking this opportunity to tell the story that I would have told in the speech.

I once read a Tibetan story about two fellows walking along before the time shoes were invented. The sharp rocks were hurting their feet. One said to the other: "Would't it be nice if we could cover the world with leather?" The other replied: "Why don't we just cover our feet."

Our traffic situation is a lot like this. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, there are about 140-million workers in the US. Of them, 106-million are single occupant drivers averaging about 20 miles round trip to work, in a car with 4 or more empty seats, that is literally 4 times too big for the job to be done.

Rather than think about building more roads and parking lots, why not consider a more sensible approach, by offering cars that are appropriate for this job—ones that can fit comfortably in 1/2 of a lane.

Most families have more than one car. I'm not advocating for anyone to give up the privilege of having a family car that can be used for all kinds of trips, that actually require the capacity or range. However, since this car rarely gets used to capacity as compared to the daily commute, why does a family need more than one of these large cars?


I liken it to a carpenter that has two or more sledge hammers, but no claw hammer, yet uses the sledge hammers for driving finish nails 90% of the time.

Motorcycles and bicycles are a solution to congestion of course, however, it is quite evident that people in general would rather sit in traffic in a comfortable and reasonably safe and protected environment rather than be subjected to the dangers and climate exposure on a bike. They also like to have a locker that travels with them with whatever things that think they may need close to them. They don't have that with a bike, motorcycle, or public transit. The Bureau of Transportation Statistics shows that only 0.8% of all workers in the U.S. use bicycles and motorcycles combined, for getting to and from work. This chart is available on our web page/downloads at http://www.commutercars.com/, or http://www.bts.gov/publications/national_transportation_statistics/2010/html/table_01_38.html

The Tango, a car that is the size of a motorcycle, seats two 6'6" adults comfortably in tandem, with 4 times more side impact protection than a Volvo, beats a Dodge Viper in the 1/4-mile, is 5" narrower than a Gold Wing motorcycle, the same rollover threshold as a 911 Porsche, certified racecar roll cage, and short enough to park perpendicularly to the curb (4 in a typical parallel parking space), already exists. It is a $200k car at present, made of carbon fiber, stainless steel, and a chrome-moly roll cage, just to show off its potential. It is only this expensive because there are only 12 of them in the world and hand building cars is a huge undertaking for such a unique vehicle where most parts have to be custom made rather than borrowed from existing cars. If built in the same volume as other cars, there is no reason that it wouldn't compete favorably in price. It is all electric, and the battery ballasts it, which helped make it the fastest car recorded by Consumer Reports through the emergency lane change maneuver (moose test) at the Automotive X-Prize competition.

Now for the big picture. I understand the "Big Dig" Boston Tunnel is costing over $20-billion. If I recall correctly it transports 200,000 cars per day. I was told by the Director of CalTrans that the San Francisco Bay bridge accommodates about 250,000 cars per day, that's 125,000 cars going both directions. So, that sounds about right. Imagine another way of solving the problem. Building 100,000 cars may seem extremely capital intensive, but not compared to building freeways, parking, and tunnels to accommodate all of the empty seats that people currently carry with them. The Nissan Leaf electric car received $2-billion in government loans from DOE. It's my understanding that a typical new model is a $1.5 to $2-billion investment. In order for that kind of investment to pay off, roughly 100,000 car per year sales is required to amortize the expense. At present, Nissan has sold just over 10,000 Leafs, so if they didn't sell any more of them, that would be $200k per car. They really did bet the farm on that.

I'm certain that the Tango could be built and sold profitably for $10,000 each if the $2-billion for design and tooling were invested. This would not include the battery, which should be leased and paid for monthly the same as one's gasoline bill. Various options would be available so that one only pays for a battery capacity in accordance with one's needs.

Let's compare with the Boston Tunnel. $20-billion for the Tunnel plus decades of work and added traffic congestion due to the construction, vs $3-billion for 100,000 Tangos that could be given away for free, saving taxpayers $17-billion dollars and could be produced in 2 years. Not only would it completely solve the problem that justified the Big Dig, but it would also save over 75,000 parking spots and solve the congestion problems all over the city, not to mention that a city with 100,000 electric cars taking on most of the commuter transportation load would have the world's greatest "green" credential. Don't worry about the electric load. It would be exactly as if 100,000 families each turned on one 8" square ceramic heater for 2 hours and 40 minutes at some time during the night. The grid handles many times that on a cold day.

If we can't convince governments or auto manufacturers of this simple logic, maybe we have to wait until the grade school kids come of age to make the change. They all "get it."

Meanwhile, we can offer 200% to 300% faster commute times in California, Europe, and Asia where lane splitting (driving a motorbike or Tango between lanes of stopped or slow-moving traffic) is legal.

Even a $50M investment would allow us to sell 200 kilowatt (150hp) Tangos for $44k at 2,500 per year, or with $150M, 15,000 per year could be sold profitably for $29k each.

If you want to solve a problem rather than keep spending money on congestion, please spread the word. There must be someone out there with enough common sense to make this happen.

Disruptive technology is a funny thing though. Steve Jobs was asked once by a reporter what kind of market survey he did for the Macintosh. Steve scoffed and said: "What kind of market analysis do you think Alexander Graham Bell did before inventing the telephone?" Interestingly, when the first telephone was presented to the U.S. President Rutherford Hayes, he said "What a wonderful invention, but who would ever want to use it?"


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4 comments:

Mickey Simple said...

Thanks for the great post, Rick. The world will wake up, and the generations to come will wonder what the $#!#$ we were doing driving all of those empty passenger sides of cars.

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