President of Commuter Cars Speaks at 2012 Engineering Dinner

Feb. 23 Presentation Highlights Tango Electric Car

By: Lisa Krueger

Rick Woodbury

Imagine a world without traffic and parking congestion. That dream is what motivated Rick Woodbury, founder and president of Commuter Cars in Spokane, Wash., to start looking for an alternative to the 4-plus-passenger, gasoline-powered car or SUV that most of us currently drive. His solution: the Tango, an electric vehicle that is about the size of a motorcycle while still offering the safety and comfort of a car. At just 39 inches wide, it can fit comfortably in half of a lane and park in as little as a quarter of a parallel parking space.

Woodbury’s company and the Tango will be the subject of his presentation, “Innovative Disruption in the World of Transportation,” at the 2012 Engineers Dinner at 6:30 p.m. in the Reid Campus Center on the campus of Whitman College in Walla Walla.  

Woodbury’s story begins in about 1982 when he was stuck in traffic, commuting from Hermosa Beach to Beverly Hills California, where he was a sales manager for a high-end car dealer, Beverly Hills Porsche-Audi. He noted that all of the cars around him had a single occupant. In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, there are 140 million workers in the United States, of whom 106 million are single-occupant drivers carrying around four or more empty seats, causing traffic and parking congestion. It was during this drive that the idea of a narrower car occurred to him.

Woodbury says, “I heard a quote once: To innovate, don't ask people what they want, but rather watch what they do. That is the key to innovation. It has nothing to do with the past, comparing with other products. It has everything to do with the present and future. If there is a problem that is causing suffering, and a solution exists to remove that suffering that is obvious to potential purchasers of that solution and it has a value in relation to its benefits, there is a market.”

“A typical electric car is not a disruptive innovation. It does not fall into the problem-solving category described above. I know of no innovations that were successful that didn't make people's life easier or more comfortable. Electric sedans and trucks take away usefulness and security in most ways and give little back in return. Being green will certainly sell a number of EVs; however, it is not enough to get tens of millions to switch from gasoline to electric.”

“Disruption must make a major improvement, and in the case of electric cars, must have huge benefits to make up for the drawbacks,” says Woodbury.

Using his extensive mechanical and electrical engineering experience, he started building a prototype with his son, Bryan, in a garage in 1998. The Tango has been in constant development since then, with 11 produced to date. Tangos have been sold to the Google founders, George Clooney, and a number of others. While the Tango is expensive at present, it is only because it is in extremely low production. There is no reason that it couldn't be manufactured as inexpensively as any other car, of the same quality, if produced in the same volume, says Woodbury.

Woodbury will also discuss the simple engineering principles that make this car possible despite the initial reactions of safety and rollover stability. His presentation will be followed by a brief Q&A session.

Tickets for the event are $30. For more information or to purchase tickets, please call (509) 527-2765. Tickets must be purchased by Friday, Feb. 17.

For the latest Tango news and videos, visit the Tango blog at the link below.

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