May 19, 2005 No folks, this is not an optical illusion or a Photoshop-enhanced image - this is the Tango. The Tango is a carbon fibre, two seater electric commuter vehicle that will reach 60mph in four seconds and 150 mph in a few seconds more – a radical, pollution-free solution to the problem of transport in congested urban environments. The first batch of 100 vehicles goes to market next week when actor George Clooney takes delivery of the first US$85,000 pocket rocket to come off the production line. A deal between UK-based automotive technology specialist Prodrive and US-based Commuter Cars Corporation has seen the Tango vehicle design taken from prototype form to efficient low volume production. Plans call for volume production, at which point the projected price for the car will drop to around US$20,000.

Only 39 inches wide and eight and a half feet long, the Tango is as tall as a conventional car but takes up only half the road width. The 1,100lb battery pack in the vehicle’s floor keeps its centre of gravity low, allowing the Tango to achieve sports car levels of stability, despite its narrow track. Two high efficiency electric motors driving the rear wheels can produce a combined torque level of over 1,000 ft lbs to deliver levels of acceleration more commonly associated with supercars than eco-friendly transport.

Commuter Cars Corporation is run by Tango designer Rick Woodbury and his son Bryan. Their interest in alternative personal transportation goes back to the 1970s when Rick was researching hydrogen power. In the late 1990s, Rick and Bryan realised that the heavy weight of the hydrogen fuel cell and hydride storage could be used to give a significant stability advantage to a small narrow vehicle, allowing a single design to tackle the twin problems of pollution and congestion.

Over the next five years, the Woodburys worked on their design while they waited for fuel cell technology to catch up with their vision. “Then we realised that modern lead acid battery technology could deliver four times the range of the average daily commute. That gave us the level of performance we required to build a practical commuter vehicle,” explains Rick. “We built our first running prototype in 1998 and we’ve been refining the design ever since.”

Commuter Cars Corporation has chosen a route to production as radical as its vehicle design. Rather than going to the risk and expense of designing, tooling and testing for high volume production straight away, it chose to enter the market with a low-volume, high performance version of the vehicle built using motorsport technologies. Sales of the Tango 600 will be used to support the ongoing development of lower cost mass produced versions of the car.

“Prodrive has all the skills we need to bring the Tango 600 to market,” says Woodbury. “They have their own advanced composites design and manufacturing capabilities and have experience working with the type of racecar roll cages that form the basis of this high performance vehicle. At the same time, they are used to building, modifying and testing passenger cars to the highest OEM standards.”

“Prodrive is one of the very few organisations world wide that could actually do what we have done with the Tango,” says Geoff Bye, Prodrive project manager for the CCC project. “In less than three months we’ve been able to take the prototype vehicle, make over 100 engineering changes to ensure it is suitable for low volume manufacture, and make use of both racing car and passenger vehicle manufacturing capabilities to put it into production.”

View gallery - 9 images