Scoot Quad (nee Renault Twizy) tested in San Francisco, Oct 2015
Last week we listed seven of the most bizarre "green" cars (and some not-so-green) of the 20th century, most of which were rolled out in response to depression, war recovery, or out-of-control gas prices.
This week, we'll look at seven more from the 21st century, which seems to have had a concentrated share of attempts at innovation in response to war in the Middle East, high gas prices, and deep recession.
One notable difference is that this century's cars mostly run on electricity, or at least offer an electric option.
They're hardly any more normal, though.
Most are answers to a question that few people ask, but one which Dan Sturges, the designer of the "trans2," the progenitor of our first oddball car this week asks continually: "Why does everybody need a 3,000-pound car capable of driving 70 mph on the highway for hours on end just to go to the store and pick up a few bags of groceries."
We don't know, Dan, but we're not sure whether any of these cars are the answer, either.
Early GEM e2
The G.E.M., for Global Electric Motors, is perhaps the original bizarre green car of the 21st century, even though it was conceived in the 1990s and may be the most commercially successful car on our list.
It was G.E.M. that lobbied the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to create a whole new category of cars designated as Low Speed Vehicles (more commonly known as Neighborhood Electric Vehicles) that have seat belts, windshields and wipers, lights, and turn signals, but can't go faster than 25 mph. The plan was to get regulations revised to allow them on roads with speed limits up to 35 mph so the neighborhood cars could travel between neighborhoods, but not on highways. That law was never passed federally, though most states now allow it.
In the end, G.E.M. has sold more than 50,000 of the vehicles sometimes derided as "glorified golf carts" in two-passenger pickup, four-passenger, and six-passenger configurations, with doors or without. Some stand in for regular cars in gated neighborhoods, many more serve as transit shuttles or gardening carts at resorts.
Now owned by snowmobile and off-road machine maker Polaris, G.E.M. sells the cars with batteries good for up to 100 miles.
The Tango is designed to solve traffic congestion as well as to save energy. In profile, you could mistake it for any other tiny car—until you start to walk around the front or back. The Tango is so narrow—3 foot, 3 inches—that you can fit two to a lane, or a parking space. Two passengers sit front to back. When the car entered the Automotive X Prize, it was called the "two-dimensional car."
The Tango's maker, Commuter Cars, calls it "arguably the safest car on the road" despite not having air bags or being crash tested. Partly that's because in when the car entered the Automotive X Prize competition, it was able to complete the "moose test" avoidance maneuver administered by Consumer Reports faster than any other car or motorcycle in the competition. The safest accident is one you don't get into.
How is such a narrow car not tippy? It's 2,000-pound battery pack sits under the floor, 4 inches off the ground. Commuter Cars claims it has the lowest center of gravity of any car on the market. It's tubular roll bar passed muster with the FIA race agency that sanctions Formula One.
The Tango has two 100-hp electric locomotive motors with 1,500 ft.-pounds of torque each. It will hit 60 mph from a standing start in 3.2 seconds.
The Tango sells for $240,000—without the battery. Various size lithium-iron phosphate batteries are available that can give the car from 60 to 240 miles of range at 60 mph. The batteries sell for an additional $5,000 to $20,000, or Commuter Cars will rent them for $75 to $300 a month.
The company has sold 12 Tangos, but says it has a waiting list for more than 2,000 at lower prices. Actor George Clooney reportedly bought one. The Tango is street legal in Washington state (where it is built), California, New Zealand, and Australia.