Thursday, August 7, 2008

Thunderbox

Did I squeeze this picture in Photoshop?

No, this incredibly space-conscious mighty-mite is the all-electric Tango T600 from Commuter Cars. Tech blogs and the press have been a-buzz with this thing since the first ones were delivered back in late 2005.

As you see here folks are using them to get to work and back. This one is plugged into a bank of solar panels overhead, so its carbon footprint is basically zero.

According to the brochure it uses 4kWh of electricity on a standard commute - that is around what you use to tumble dry your load of laundry: even if you don't have a handy solar-powered carport with electricity at todays rates a weeks commuting is $2.40.

Despite its small size it is no lightweight. Even with its carbon-fiber and kevlar body to offset the weight of the batteries, it weighs in at around 3000lbs.

As far as I know Tango still uses lead-acid batteries - with the latest prismatic Nickel-metal hydride or Lithium ion batteries weight would greatly reduce that figure, and produce better performance, perhaps allowing for more conventional and cheaper materials. Commuter Cars plan to make available two lower spec vehicles the T200 and T100. There is talk of different battery technologies on their website. The other issue with batteries is of course patents.

Still, in this configuration the Tango T600 has blistering performance stats - a claimed 0-60mph in 4 seconds, and the standing quarter in 12 seconds. On the track it corners like its on rails due to its very low center of gravity.

But.

The price tag on the T600 is currently around $100k - similar to the Tesla. And the Tango is a kit - you have to put it together yourself.

So the Tango has got the right performance, the right high-tech credentials, and the right environmental footprint.

But a kit-car? And its so small?

One of my predictions about electric cars is the trend will continue growing for an electric car to be a prestigious status symbol in the same way that turbocharged sports sedans with leather trim from well-known European marques are today.

The hoi-polloi will smile knowingly when lesser mortals talk about their fuel-guzzling internal combustion engined vehicles. The well-to-do will be buying top-of-the-line, completely silent, outrageously fast and very stylish electric vehicles - which all manufacturers still alive will be producing, as they struggle to catch up to market and prestige leaders like Lightning Cars of the UK, and Tesla of California.

Public feeling is changing in a ground-swell about cars.

Admittedly, conspicuous consumption of petrol is still a powerful style statement amongst those with the who hide their credit card statements under the rug.

But high-technology in the form of keyless entry, GPS, electronic traction control, and in fact electronic just-about-everything is really what it takes to impress folks these days.

And lighting a firing up fossil-fuels in the old pot-boiler under the hood somehow just doesn't gel with that trend towards the hi-tech performance model.

This is where Tesla and Lightning are early riders of a gathering wave. Prestige, performance - and saving the planet.

Tango could be up there too, but they need to show how their trademark small size is a luxury bonus; ditch the kit-car angle, and raise their tech level to include new battery technologies, reduce the price tag, and start featuring items like GPS.

I hope that they can beat these niggles because I would love to see more electric cars on the roads.