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Toyota Considers EV With Simulated Manual Transmission

  • Imagine an EV that can simulate a real manual transmission — clutch, shifter, and all.
  • There could even be vibration as the clutch "engages."
  • Toyota may be mulling making this a reality.

Although many serious performance vehicles are still available with a manual transmission, the option has slowly vanished from mainstream offerings. Watching the pivot in the industry to more electric vehicles has gotten enthusiasts even more nervous, but could a stick-shift electric vehicle win them over? It's a strange concept, but Toyota has filed some patents to add a manual transmission to an EV. Here's what we know so far.

It's not technically a manual transmission

We saw the news on February 10 when a user on BZForums, a forum dedicated to the upcoming Toyota bZ4X EV, posted copies of patent applications Toyota submitted regarding an electric vehicle with a manual transmission. Those familiar with electric vehicles may immediately point out that gears are unnecessary with EVs, and they'd be right. Most EVs come with a single-speed transmission, and as we dug into the patent filings we found that Toyota's system would come with the same kind of transmission too. The "manual" portion of this EV would be 100% virtual. Across all eight documents, Toyota lays out the specifics of each main component and how it fits into the larger vision of a virtual manual transmission.

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How it would work

Toyota's stick-shift EV would feature a pair of driving modes, one with a "traditional" shiftless EV driving experience and another utilizing a physical clutch pedal and shifter. The patents describe tactile feedback in each element, down to vibrations in the clutch pedal when it's "slipping" as the clutch pedal is released. Toyota's team noted that in the "manual" driving mode, the power output would be modulated to mimic an internal-combustion engine. The documents describe this as an effort to address the concerns of drivers who want the "driving feel" a manual transmission offers.

We imagine the effort stems at least partly from Toyota's learnings with CVTs (continuously variable automatic transmissions) when they were first introduced on a large scale. Though drivers of EVs and hybrids were more accepting of an unfamiliar driving experience, many others missed the sensation of running through the gears, so Toyota and other automakers added software-created "steps" to their CVT units. The spread of this ruse across the CVT universe speaks to its success with car shoppers.

But would this really convince stick-shift fans to buy more EVs?

This is the question we've been considering, and we can see both sides. Even if they get the execution just right, which is itself a tall order, the feature may fall flat for a lot of consumers, just like simulating an exhaust note through the audio system's speakers. Additionally, limiting power output and adding in a human element are sure to be slower and could negatively impact driving range.

On the other hand, why not try it? Imagine tackling your commute with the smooth shiftless power of a traditional EV, then switching into manual mode for more spirited driving on a windy road. Though it's not "real," maybe it would still be fun all the same — especially if Toyota channels all that electric torque to let you chirp the tires into second or even third.

Edmunds says

If Toyota gets this to feel right (that's a big if) and it puts a smile on people's faces, then the faux-manual EV might make a case for itself.