In February, unearthed patent filings indicated that Toyota might be working on a manual transmission for electric vehicles. It seemed rather far-fetched, and as we know many patented ideas never actually make it into production. However Toyota — or rather, its Lexus luxury performance division — is seriously working on this, as the company confirmed during a conference in Europe.
The system uses a physical gear shift, tachometer and third pedal. We hesitate to call it a clutch pedal because it's not actually connected to a clutch. Of course an EV wouldn't have a gearbox with actual gears and synchros, either. Everything is simulated via software.
Takashi Watanabe, chief engineer of Lexus Electrified, described it as a "simulated drive force map with pedal and shift positions to reproduce the feeling of a manual transmission." It's so realistic, though, that the driver even faces the possibility of stalling the car or rolling backwards on a hill start. And since the system is governed by ones and zeroes, each driver can choose their preferred "gearing" without having to swap out cogs of varying ratios.
"This new project all started with some Lexus engineers reflecting on what they liked about traditional [internal combustion] vehicles and what they had to miss out on with electric cars," said Watanabe. "[The] manual transmission was one thing they enjoyed in particular."
Tantalizingly, Watanabe revealed this technology while standing before the Lexus Electrified Sport concept, a car rumored to be an electric Lexus LFA successor. In practice, the transmission has been installed on a Lexus UX300e for testing. In a short video (we can't embed it, so click here and go to the 13:27 mark in "Lexus Deep Dive" ) the prototype weaves through a parking lot complete with simulated engine revs.
Watanabe said that the prototype was "so much fun that the project is now under serious development and it might actually be on future BEVs." Indeed, when the driver changes gear, the hand-held camera even jerks a little, confirming that it behaves like a stick-shift ICE car.
It certainly does look quite a bit livelier than a CVT-equipped UX, raising the question of what it would be like in a true sports car like the Electrified Sport. Fortunately, Watanabe had some positive news about the sleek concept that is claimed to go from 0-62 mph in around 2 seconds. "I cannot tell you when we will be launching a production vehicle based on the Electrified Sport. But I can confirm that we are working on it." He also affirmed that the manual transmission, along with all-wheel drive, steer-by-wire and brake-by-wire, were all being developed for the production version. "This is not just a design concept. It is meant to become reality."