Adding a “fake shifter” to an electric car: Toyota’s crazy idea

Honda faced rival Toyota in a panel discussion about adding “fake manual transmissions” to electric cars. But what are we talking about, more specifically?

Introducing a multi-speed gearbox with a manual lever into an electric car might seem strange. It is, however, an element that several brands seem to continue to work on. Toyota filed several patents to that effect in early 2022. Dodge isn’t completely out of the loop with its Charger Daytona SRT concept.

It was during a roundtable with the Car And Driver media that Toshihiro Mibe, CEO of Honda, and Shinji Aoyama, head of electrification, expressed their doubts about the interest of these “fake or simulated”.

Not really for nostalgia, more for performance

Behind this somewhat crazy idea by the Toyota group to put a manual gearbox back in electric cars, there’s not just nostalgia for traditional cars. The absence of a manual gearbox and gear shifting is, however, seen as progress for many electric car users.

Typically, electric cars can do without gearboxes. Only the 4 modes, operated by a simple button or comodo, are still useful:

  • “D” (forward),
  • “R” (to go back),
  • “N” (for neutral position)
  • “P” (for park position).

You can also add “B” mode as an accessory to activate an additional regenerative brake. But you can go a little further.

Automatic gear selector // Source: Pixabay

Even though electric cars can use a single gear, the immediate performance at low speeds fades away at higher speeds. In an everyday car, that’s enough, but for a sports car, we can do better.

Some electric cars even have a two-speed electric transmission. This is the case of the Porsche Taycan and the Audi e-tron GT. It was the equipment manufacturer ZF that developed this solution that should allow optimizing performance and autonomy. First gear manages speed below 70 km/h, and second gear takes over. In this example, it’s perfectly transparent to the driver that he doesn’t need to physically change gears.

The patents registered by the Toyota group go beyond a multi-speed transmission. For the future sportswoman of Lexus, its president, Koji Sato, would like to associate a “pseudo gear lever” and a “pseudo clutch”. Why nickname? Because it’s not really about reproducing the mechanical action of these two elements, but about finding a software solution that can simulate the feel of a manual gear lever. The aim would be to make electric vehicles as attractive as thermal sports models.

Next Lexus electric range // Source: Lexus
Next Lexus electric range // Source: Lexus

Honda is not really convinced by these artificial solutions

Honda and Toyota cannot be said to have jumped headlong into the transition to electric vehicles. In this, the two rivals bet mainly on the hybrid. It is against the wall that they decide to spend the second to offer electric vehicles. So they want to try to bring something different.

For Toyota, it could go for this (imitation) manual transmission that would give more driving sensations, but Honda is looking for something more to continue to deliver electric cars that are enjoyable and fun to drive.

The two Honda leaders assimilate this idea of ​​a manual gearbox to another strange trend, observed with certain novelties: that of false engine (or exhaust) sounds. Apparently, it’s the Dodge that seems to be the target of this observation.

For Toshihiro Mibe, CEO of Honda, it is important that its electric cars are ” nervous and that stand out from their competitors in terms of driving experience, adding: “ Not sure if we can replace the manual transmission. »

Before trying to give us the feeling of driving a sports car from the past, with complex technical and software solutions to implement, we hope that the two Japanese manufacturers will offer us new functional electric vehicles. The two brands currently have only one 100% electric reference available in their catalogue: the Honda e on the one hand, the Toyota BZ4X and the Lexus UX300e on the other. We’re still waiting for the Lexus RZ to show the end of its hood, because it’s already several months late. At the moment, none of these models seem to have pleased buyers, and it would probably be a good idea to start by correcting that.

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