Autoblog recently had the opportunity to test drive Toyota’s fully functional prototype of a manual transmission all electric Lexus UX 300e in Japan and they came away quite impressed. But as I have pointed out, the manual transmission is simulated using a single speed electric motor. Toyota added a clutch pedal and an H-pattern shifter to the EV, but they are not connected to a transmission or the motor at all. Instead, the hardware includes sensors that detect shifter and clutch pedal positions and software then manipulates the electric motor based on the sensor output. The onboard computer can adjust how much torque is available based on RPM, speed, and the “gear” selected in order to simulate the performance characteristics of an internal combustion engine (ICE). Partial clutch use can affect torque availability and the EV can even “stall” if one’s throttle and clutch inputs aren’t what they should be (though in this manual EV’s case, fully depressing the clutch will “restart” the EV and bypass the stall). Toyota even goes so far as to include stuttering or jerking simulation during scenarios when the computer is detecting conditions leading to a stall, as well as variable engine braking (via regenerative braking, RPM and “gear” selection), simulated engine sounds for all conditions, and a tachometer. About the only thing Autoblog found that was less than completely passable was the action of the shifter itself, since it isn’t hooked up to anything. It felt listless or like an arcade game shifter with no feedback from the vehicle. Honestly, implementing some form of force feedback in the shifter arm seems an easy task considering all the intricacy that Toyota has put into the other aspects of this manual transmission simulation so perhaps, if it goes to market, Toyota will even add that finishing touch as well.
Obviously Toyota wouldn’t go to all this trouble for no reason, so it begs the question: why? While it may simply be a passion project on Toyota designers' part, or perhaps a project of “die hard” petrolheads / gasoline junkies, it makes a little more sense if it has a marketable purpose. That purpose may simply be to attract an enthusiast customer set, or perhaps international customers (since outside of North America manual transmissions are more common), or just the nostalgic set. Whatever the reason, it is an interesting project, but what applications might it serve beyond attracting additional customers? Autoblog suggested it could be a way for training new drivers on how to drive manual transmissions, which seems a novel but truly appropriate niche (think of all the clutches it could save!). On a similar note I might suggest that it could be part of enhanced driver training programs since manual transmissions, by default, require more physical engagement from drivers it could become a feature of driving schools (or even racing schools) world wide. Helping drivers become more involved and in tune with their vehicles could be a form of enhancing driver or vehicle safety. Further, the manual transmission simulation may simply make some drivers happier or more satisfied with the driving experience, especially if the feature may be turned off (for those wonderful moments spent in bumper to bumper traffic).
What do you think about this novel approach? Would you be interested in an EV that simulated a manual transmission driving experience, and if not, why? Do you have any other ideas about how or why such a design could be welcome? Please leave your feedback below.
Image courtesy of Toyota.
Justin Hart has owned and driven electric vehicles for over 15 years, including a first generation Nissan LEAF, second generation Chevy Volt, Tesla Model 3, an electric bicycle and most recently a Kia Sorento PHEV. He is also an avid SUP rider, poet, photographer and wine lover. He enjoys taking long EV and PHEV road trips to beautiful and serene places with the people he loves. Follow Justin on Torque News Kia or X for regular electric and hybrid news coverage.