There’s nothing like shifting your own gears in a sports car like the 2022 Toyota GR86. With EVs taking over the market, the manual transmission is once again at risk of peril. Fortunately, a patent filed by Toyota with the US Patent Office was immediately spotted by the forums describing a complex new system to simulate the experience of driving a manual transmission, now without any of the thrilling danger of stalling.
What Is It?
When it comes to an EV like the upcoming Toyota “Sports EV,” there is no gas engine that can stall out. That used to be the whole reason you need the clutch and a gearbox—to keep the engine from stalling, and to transition between gears, obviously. Why would Toyota bother having something like this on a car with no gears and likely near-instant torque on command?
The patent filed by the Japanese brand a few months ago, but published this week, describes a system that uses a fake clutch, fake shifter, a three mode selector, and programming at the controller to simulate the experience of driving a manual transmission, just without the stalling.
Full Manual Mode
So how does the patent say it works? Essentially, when you shift the “transmission shifter,” the prospective EV’s motor controller will increase or decrease the voltage—and, thus, the magnetic field controlling the rotor in the motor—and this effect is meant to simulate the torque feeling of each gear. There are three modes described in the patent.
Both “clutch” and “clutchless” modes, as we’re calling them based on what we see in the patent documents, operate this way. Some EVs do use a clutch to decouple and idle a permanent-magnet motor when it’s not needed. However, that is not what is being operated in this mode. A third, automatic mode, lets the driver ignore the clutch pedal and shifter altogether, and operates as a traditional EV.
The patent’s clutch mode includes the need to operate the clutch pedal—and yes, there would be a third pedal in this car, but again, there is no true clutch being operated here. The voltage is changed to act as if you’re not generating enough torque to move the vehicle. The motor won’t stall and require you to restart it, it just won’t go very fast or just won’t move, like tugging on a gear or starting on a hill in a traditional car.
No Clutch, No Problem
When operating in the other, clutchless mode, it will act similar to a DCT equipped vehicle using a regular stick shifter. You select the gear with the shifter, the controller modifies the voltage to the motor for each gear, and you “shift” through the “gears” to get the torque you want.
The driver doesn’t have to do anything with the clutch pedal in this mode. It’s basically like knocking a normal automatic car into the “S” mode, where you can toggle “+” and “-” to control the gears with no clutch pedal.
The automatic mode (again, our description based on what we saw in the patents) will act as a normal, “transmission-less” EV. The Toyota patent details how each mode calculates the torque the motor sends to the wheels, the torque demanded by the driver in relation to the throttle pedal and gear selector, and the amount of torque demanded by the throttle pedal position.
There is even talk on how to train each mode to fit a specific driver profile with this type of pseudo-manual. It’s unclear if this system would be built on current Toyota EV architecture and powertrains, or require broader vehicle development to be adapted to future cars.
Early EV Conversions Did Have Transmissions
While early EV enthusiasts did stick a real transmission into their conversion projects, they mostly did it to try and assist the lackluster power and capacity available from lead-acid and nickel-cadmium batteries of the time, along with rudimentary controls for the motor. Most projects didn’t even use the clutch or torque converter, and instead the motor was attached directly to the input shaft of the transmission.
Today, thanks to lithium battery technology and controllers that can withstand higher amperes—along with much better cooling technology—you can truly build a car with monster V-8-like torque with battery power. The transmission just isn’t needed as the motor actually potentially spins faster than is usable, and a reduction box is usually attached to the motor before heading to the wheels on EVs already. Perhaps plans could have this new EV “manual” replace or assist the current energy-reduction principle.
Will It Stick?
As a performance driver, you really want to have full control of your vehicle, but it gets tricky to continue to satisfy drivers with the input of a computer and more advanced technology. Not only is it technically obsolete, but it’s also that little bit slower to shift, and it does force drivers to take their hands off the wheel. It’s why a majority of race cars today utilize paddles behind the steering wheel rather than a stick that you must move around in a gate or even sequentially—speed, and a little intended safety.
But we’re not all racing drivers, and we have grown to love the manual transmission for the control it hands the driver. Heel-toeing into a corner to get the RPMs right is sublime. Sometimes you get a better lap time, being able to throttle the right amount of power down as you accelerate out of the corner if you know what you’re doing. Some worry over major automakers pivoting to electrified technologies that completely render their charming stick and pedal technically obsolete. They want that feeling of rowing your own gears and operating a clutch. There isn’t anything saying Toyota will bring this out, but it’s exciting to see the brand thinking for enthusiasts, and worrying about making sure the future is still fun.
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