Five Questions Friday with Rick Woodbury of Commuter Cars Corp.

starting a new weekly series here called “Five Question
Friday” that will feature SolidWorks customers, resellers, employees, etc. all
answering the same five questions. We’re hoping to give our
readers a little more insight into the people who make up the global
SolidWorks community.
If you’d like to be featured, or nominate someone else, leave a comment with your suggestions. We’ll try to tackle as many as we can. So without further ado, here’s our first victim. I mean honoree.

Name: Rick Woodbury

Title: President and

Company: Commuter
Cars (

Hometown: Spokane, WA



1) Why did you choose
to do the work you do?

In about 1982, I was stuck in traffic in Los Angeles and noticed only one person in
each car around me. I contemplated how many millions are stuck in my situation
every day and just seem numb to it — a frustration without a solution. I
thought about what would be the solution. It was obvious that length of a
vehicle was much less important than width for increasing freeway lane capacity
in cars per hour. Making a car half as wide, or able to fit in a half lane with
adequate clearance would allow a doubling of lane capacity. Shortening a car
would make a much smaller difference because most of the real estate used by a
car is the space in front for braking reaction time and braking distance. Since
roughly 90 percent of all cars have one person in them why would people choose
a wide car for most of their trips, given the choice?

It occurred to me, of course, that a narrow car would tip
over in cornering. Being a casual Porsche race driver at the time, I was quite
aware of the relation of lateral G forces and center of mass. I’ve been an
advocate of hydrogen fuel for cars since 1975 when I first read about it in a
Brazilian magazine. I knew that although an internal-combustion-engine car
would be hard to ballast enough for stability, a hydrogen car using iron-titanium
hydride or a similar carrier for the hydrogen would make great ballast for
stabilizing a narrow car.

I stewed on this for nearly 20 years wondering when a car
company would figure this out. I remember speaking with Peter Schutz, and
Helmut Bott, Porsche’s president and chief engineer at the time about hydrogen.
They said that it was a 20 year project, and that they could only afford to
work on five-year projects at Porsche.

Almost exactly 20 year later I learned of the progress being
made at Daimler-Benz, and their planned purchase of Ballard stock, a hydrogen
fuel cell company. Many things came together at that time that catalyzed my son
and me to build a prototype narrow car that ran on batteries just to prove our
theory. We originally thought that batteries wouldn’t have enough range and
that our work was to prepare for hydrogen power. We learned quickly though that
batteries were more than sufficient for the average commute. In fact, because
the Tango was not trying to be everything to everybody, only appealing to 90
percent of all car trips, that inexpensive lead-acid batteries would be
sufficient. As we built and developed our proof-of-concept vehicle, we found it
to be more and more valid. Little by little we got capital to advance the
design to the point where it is today.

2) What is your
proudest career moment?

There are many happy moments. It’s hard to put one in front
of another. They were all stepping stones on a very long path, but most by far,
lies ahead. That said, I’d have to say that completing a garage-built prototype
with my son that beat some Corvettes on the autocross track despite being only
39 inches wide would rank right up there.

3) What goal do you
have that inspires you most? 

For the Tango to get a foothold so that the doubling of lane
capacity can be achieved, it must have immediate advantages over a standard
car. In California, Europe,
and the Orient, lane-splitting is allowed for motorcycles, some of which are
five inches wider than the Tango. The Tango is actually five inches narrower than
a Honda Gold Wing motorcycle from mirror to mirror. I’ve noted situations where
traffic jams were so bad coming off of the San Francisco Bay
that the motorcycles
were traveling in 20 seconds the distance that it took cars to travel 20
minutes — a 60 to 1 advantage. The Tango could have done the same.

So in philanthropy, one can give the golden egg, or give the
goose that lays the golden egg. I believe that funding Commuter Cars is
like the latter. It is Commuter Cars’ goal to put 150-million Tangos on
the roads of the world within 30 years or hopefully as little as 15. I
believe that when the average commuter sees the benefit, enjoys the
freedom and excitement of driving a Tango, they will naturally gravitate
toward a tipping point just as the Model-T and the PC did, and people will
wonder how we ever got along without them.150 million Tangos, possibly $3 trillion in sales, may sound
like a lot, but it’s only about half of the single-occupant commuters in
the world. In the U.S.
alone, which is roughly one third of the world’s automotive market, it would
have the following effect.

There would be a savings of $39 billion in the retail cost
of gasoline to consumers which would be replaced by $5.2-billion dollars
of electricity at retail based on $.10 a kilowatt-hour (kWh). It would
also probably save most of the $17-billion in wasted gasoline due to
traffic congestion. The electricity used may not all be clean, however, it
could be, and naturally will be, as clean sources like solar and wind
become more commonplace and economically feasible. 

4) How has SolidWorks
made a difference in your life?

SolidWorks allowed us to take our destiny into our own hands
and hire an engineer or two to work on our project in-house. Before we were spending
way too much, with too little control, with companies that used other CAD
solutions. I was also able to learn SolidWorks to a small degree. It is very
user friendly and affordable. We could never have afforded other solutions or
the engineers that used them. It really made the redesign possible with our
extremely limited budget.

5) What do you to for
fun, and what’s your favorite food?

rewrite the words to Taylor Swift songs so that I can play and sing them on my guitar. My favorite food is a Pizzeria Uno Pizza (Uno Bar and
Grill). I’m nearly half way across the country for the nearest Uno’s.

Thanks to Rick for taking the time to talk with us. If you’re interested in learning more about how Commuter Cars user SolidWorks, be sure to check out our case study.

Matthew West

SolidWorks alumnus. I like plate reverb, Rat pedals, Thai curry, New Weird fiction, my kids, Vespas, Jazzmasters, my wife & Raiders of the Lost Ark. Not necessarily in that order.