The number of new cars offered with a manual transmission has been on a downtrend for a number of years now, and despite the constant moaning from enthusiasts, the fact is nobody really buys the manuals any more, and thus carmakers have zero incentive to continue making them.
The demise of the manuals is further compounded by the tectonic shift towards EVs in the industry, which, as many of you know, do not necessarily require a traditional “gearbox” at all. But as bleak as it may seem, stick shifts might not actually be dead just yet – if this recently-unearthed Toyota patent application is anything to go by.
Yup, you read the title right. According to a couple of new filings with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), Toyota is apparently working on a new manual “transmission” to be used in electric vehicles.
Obviously it won’t be an actual transmission, but the system is supposed to simulate the feel of driving and operating a six-speed manual gearbox – or “technique for producing a pseudo shift change in a vehicle that transmits torque to wheels from a drive motor”, according to the document.
In essence, the “gearbox” consists of a “pseudo-clutch” and “pseudo-shifter”, the latter being a series of switches in the H-pattern shifter that sends input to the car’s on-board controller, which then varies the torque output of the electric motors according to the simulated engine RPM (that is displayed on a tachometer).
Since the pedals and shifters are not actually connected mechanically to the drivetrain (hence the ‘pseudo’ in their names), Toyota’s patent also includes a “pedal reaction force generator” and “reaction force actuator” for the third pedal and shifter respectively to emulate the physical feel of an actual manual gearbox, such as the vibration when you drag the clutch on the flywheel while partially disengaged.
Apparently, the system will even simulate the car stalling if you drop the simulated RPM too low!
Toyota says that the system is to “provide an electric vehicle capable of enjoying a driving feeling like a manual transmission vehicle, without experiencing the difficulties peculiar to [one]”.
It’s odd, sure, but with the entire automotive industry moving towards electric, this might be the best we’ll get in the future – although, it’s important to keep in mind that a patent doesn’t necessarily mean that it’ll make it into production at all.
EVs with a manual gearbox isn’t exactly new, too. Ford previously also experimented with a manual gearbox in an electric vehicle when they built the Mustang Lithium for the 2019 SEMA Show in Las Vegas.