Lexus Is Developing a Manual Transmission for EVs

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(Photo: Tai’s Captures)
As the Polaroid camera and vinyl records did before it, the manual transmission is making a comeback. Largely thought to be clunky, outdated, and inconvenient (especially in ever-expanding urban areas), the stick shift is finding its way into an unlikely place: electric vehicles.

Lexus, Toyota’s luxury auto brand, is working on making a manual transmission for EVs. According to the auto publication Evo Magazine, Lexus is hoping to “[augment] an entire combustion-powered driving experience in a low-carbon EV,” combining a highly engaging driving experience with a more efficient and environmentally friendly car.

Combined with the brand’s own DIRECT4 twin-motor—which facilitates one-wheel, two-wheel, or all-wheel drive—Lexus’s electric manual transmission will use haptics to mimic the feel of a traditional stick shift experience. The system will use a gear stick and a clutch pedal like any other manual setup, but the two won’t be connected; instead, software will work to coordinate both elements’ movements and respond via audio and haptic feedback. The system will even adjust the electric powertrain’s torque in real-time. Evo says the experience should be so realistic that drivers will be able to stall Lexus’s stick-shift EVs if they haven’t brushed up on their shifting skills for a while.

(Photo: Unervi González/Unsplash)

Lexus plans on pairing the electric manual transmission with its new steer-by-wire system, the latter of which will be present in all of its EVs from the 2023 RZ onward. Both systems represent a larger foray into driving components that (controversially, we should mention) lack any mechanical connection to the driveline. So far, Lexus has only combined the technologies in a working prototype based on the UX300e crossover.

The Venn diagram of vehicles with a stick shift and EVs is…well, slim. In 2020 Hyundai introduced the third iteration of its i20 supermini, which runs on gas but can come with a virtual clutch. Earlier this year, Ford was found to have filed a patent for an electric-clutch manual transmission that would allow the driver to skip the clutch pedal and shift using only their hand—but the automaker has yet to unveil a vehicle that uses the technology. Now Toyota is following up on its own electric clutch patents, which were discovered by a Toyota enthusiast and shared via message board in February.

It’s hard to tell how successful Lexus’s software-based electric clutch will be. At first, it’s hard to imagine that someone in search of an EV would also seek out manual transmission; they’re on opposite ends of the modernity spectrum. On the other, EVs with stick shifts might become popular with people who’d otherwise be resistant to the building “shift” (get it?) toward EVs.

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