New Toyota Patent Gives Manual Transmissions an EV Lifeline

Driving enthusiasts don’t bemoan EV performance, but some worry about what the electric future will leave behind. Namely, the sound of a revving engine and the involvement that comes with rowing your own gears. However, several shops have already shown that stick-shift EVs are a viable concept. And based on a recently released patent, it appears that Toyota also has manual transmission EVs on the brain.   

Watt’s this, Toyota wants to offer manual transmissions in EVs?

The manual transmission shifter in the black center console of a 2022 Toyota GR86 Premium
2022 Toyota GR86 Premium manual transmission shifter | Toyota

Now, Toyota is already doing its part to save the manual transmission. You can waltz into a US Toyota dealership today and pick up a stick-shift GR86 or Corolla. And while we can’t get the GR Yaris here, the manual GR Corolla is coming soon.

But these are all gasoline-powered cars; what happens when Toyota starts making EVs? Well, if the newly-released patent documents are anything to go by, it seems that Toyota is already thinking about that future. Uncovered by BZForums.com users, the US Patent Office published Toyota’s eight patents on February 10th, though the automaker filed them in July 2021. Plus, the original Japanese versions date back to 2020. And they outline the various parts of a manual transmission that could go into a Toyota EV.

Well, sort of. Although some EVs use clutches to engage and disengage their electric motors, they don’t feature in these patents, MotorTrend explains. Actually, there’s no traditional clutch involved in this hypothetical Toyota EV manual transmission, though it does have three pedals. That’s because this stick-shift doesn’t row gears per se—it just simulates them.

This new patent is more of a simulation than the ‘real thing,’ but it does describe an electric stick-shift

An overall diagram of Toyota's proposed manual transmission for EVs
Toyota EV manual transmission layout diagram | Toyota via US Patent Office

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Before you start shouting that this patented mechanism isn’t a ‘real manual’ because it lacks a clutch, keep some things in mind.

One, Toyota isn’t the first automaker to dream up a clutch-less manual transmission; Saab did it with its ‘Sensonic’ gearbox. Two, for the most part, EV-swapped classic cars with manuals don’t need to rely on clutches. The Jeep Magneto concept is one of the rare exceptions. And three, you can find these types of shifters in many three-pedal racing sim setups, and they’re pretty dang effective.

So, while it doesn’t move a physical clutch, this proposed Toyota EV transmission is technically a manual. In addition to using three pedals with feedback effort, it has a physical shifter that the driver moves around in the usual H-pattern. Only instead of gears, the shifter is connected to a controller that varies the electric motor’s voltage based on the shifter’s position. While you can’t stall the motor, this mechanism will mimic that ‘lugging’ feeling you get if you shift too early in an ICE car, MT says.

However, because of its unconventional nature, this patented Toyota manual transmission can do things other stick-shifts can’t. It doesn’t have automatic rev-matching, but it does have alternate driving modes. One eliminates the need to press the clutch pedal and makes the transmission act like a paddle-shifted DCT. And for those stuck in traffic, the third mode disables the shifter, so the car acts like any other EV.

Will this patented Toyota EV manual transmission make it to production?

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As of this writing, this hypothetical EV manual transmission officially only exists on the pages of Toyota’s patents. And in terms of production viability, it’s arguably unnecessary. Volkswagen won’t offer manuals in its EVs because electric motors’ torque spreads make transmissions superfluous, for example. However, VW was talking about traditional manuals, which this Toyota design isn’t.

Regardless, Toyota hasn’t commented on these patents, so it’s impossible to say if it has any production plans. But it’s worth noting that Toyota is pushing for electric performance, as its recent Sports EV concept demonstrates. Perhaps if and when that electric sports car reaches production, we’ll see a shifter poking out of its center console.

Still, if you’re worried that EVs will officially kill the manual transmission, know that some automakers might keep it alive.

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