Why manual transmission may still have a future in the EV era – Robb Report

It was around the middle of the last decade that Alan Macey realized how bad things had gotten with the manual transmission. The clutch pedal had begun to disappear from American-made vehicles before it was even born, but suddenly a shifter wasn’t even available as an option on a muscle car like the Dodge Charger. So he started The Manual Gearbox Preservation Society in 2015.

The group is made up of the kind of drivers who believe that physical shifting between gears is just as important to driving as putting your foot on the accelerator or turning the steering wheel. Macey isn’t so dogmatic — his garage is home to both a manual and automatic — but the longtime car enthusiast and industry veteran is concerned about how automated driving has become.

“I grew up in the rural suburbs of Detroit. I spent a lot of time driving jeeps and smaller cars on those back roads and just having a lot of fun,” Macey shared Robb report. “If I had to comment on how cars have evolved in my life, it’s that they’ve become less and less compelling.”

2018 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat

Alan Macey knew it was a bad sign when Dodge stopped selling the Charger with manual transmission

Photo: Courtesy of FCA US LLC

Macey is under no illusions. He knows that the manual transmission will not suddenly become popular. At the beginning of the 1980s, the percentage of cars that rolled off American production lines with a gear lever was only 35 percent, according to the figures. The New York Times. In 2020, that number was barely more than one percent (or about 188,000 cars), which could explain why only 18 percent of drivers in the country even know how to drive one. But Macey isn’t picking out a suit for the burial of the manual transmission either. In fact, the growing popularity of EVs – many of which are sold with the promise of further automating the driving experience – has in fact given him renewed optimism for the manual transmission.

“I think it was in the ’70s that quartz watches came out,” he said. “And there were probably a lot of people who thought Swiss automatic watches would be a thing of the past. That emerged even more recently with the Apple Watch. But I think we’re all pretty well aware of the luxury [mechanical] watch industry is alive and thriving.”

Porsche Taycan GTS from 2022

Porsche Taycan GTS saloon

Porsche

If you know anything about how EVs work, chances are you think Macey’s hopes are misplaced, especially since one of the main selling points of an all-electric powertrain is that it doesn’t require a multi-speed transmission to function. Unlike an internal combustion engine, which has a narrow rpm range that allows it to operate efficiently – the reason why you have to shift through the gears to avoid stalling – an electric motor has a much wider optimal range that only requires one gear. . That’s why almost every electric car comes with a single-speed direct drive transmission.

But there are exceptions. Take the Porsche Taycan, for example. Introduced in autumn 2019, the German marque’s debut EV is a truly powerful vehicle, capable of going from zero to 100 km/h in 2.6 seconds and reaching a top speed of 260 km/h. But what really caught the eye of some enthusiasts is the two-speed transmission on the rear axle.

The Taycan’s gearbox is an invention of our own, so we don’t know all the intricacies, but this one Wired article does a good job of breaking things down. Basically, first gear gives the Taycan more access to torque, allowing it to accelerate even faster; second runs the motor at a lower speed while maintaining speed, improving efficiency.

Porsche Taycan Turbo S

Porsche Taycan Turbo S

Porsche

The Taycan automatically shifts between the two gears – at a speed of around 100 km/h, according to Engineering Explained – but the presence of a multi-speed transmission opens up the possibility for drivers to shift gears themselves. And while Porsche isn’t yet granting that privilege to its EV drivers, other brands are already open to the possibility.

In the past year, three different companies have shown their willingness to put a gear lever in an electric car. At last year’s Monterey Car Week, Gateway Bronco introduced an all-electric version of its popular restomod, available with an optional five-speed manual transmission. Then, in February, a Toyota patent came to light outlining a system for EVs with a shifter and clutch (albeit a fake one). Finally, in April, Jeep unveiled its second Wrangler Magneto concept, which features a six-speed manual transmission for “ultimate control over the propulsion system.”

Gateway Bronco Luxe GT EV

Gateway Bronco Luxe GT EV

Port Bronco

There’s only one EV you can buy today with a manual transmission: Gateway’s Luxe-GT Ford Bronco. The latest addition to the Illinois store’s lineup of restomods starts at $265,000 and is indistinguishable from the gas-powered models until you pop the hood. There you’ll find a Legacy EV-derived electric crate motor pumping out 400 horsepower and 800 ft lbs of torque. As is the case with most EVs, the 4×4’s torque is immediately available, but if you want even more control over that power, the shop will connect the drive unit to a five-speed manual transmission that sends power to all four wheels .

If you opt for the manual transmission — which costs an additional $11,229 — you’ll see two major benefits, according to Gateway founder Seth Burgett. The first speaks for itself: the feeling itself by shifting the gears. The first two gears won’t do much for you (it’s not like you have to worry about stalling), but anyone who’s used to rowing themselves will feel at home in gears three through five. The second benefit is extra control, especially when off-roading, which can be tricky with an internal combustion engine, requiring real patience and control, having to feather the clutch to get the power and torque just right. That’s not the case with Gateway’s EV, where turn and propulsion are immediately available, with a tap of the foot, once in the right gear setting.

“If you have an electric one, it’s extremely accurate,” said Burgett. “You step on the accelerator until you have the torque and speed you need, and then you back off. You have much better control with an electrically powered off-road vehicle than with a petrol vehicle.”

Inside the Gateway Bronco Luxe GT EV

The Luxe GT EV is available with a five-speed manual transmission

Port Bronco

Burgett is not the only one who thinks this is the case. Jeep has taken the battery-powered Wrangler Magneto to the final two installments of its annual Moab Easter Safari. The vehicle is a retrofit that started out as a gas 4×4 but had its old engine replaced with an electric drive unit. One aspect that has not changed, however, is the six-speed manual transmission. While it’s definitely not necessary, the automaker has seen the benefits of the feature, especially when it comes to off-roading.

“What’s really nice is the control and finesse off-road, especially in a really rocky situation,” said Mark Allen, Jeep’s head of design. Robb report. “The vehicle reacts like a manual transmission, where it is direct drive. I don’t have a torque converter to get over or under. But the cool thing is you can’t stop it – and that’s always the fear when driving a manual transmission in a rocky off-road situation. But he can’t turn, because he doesn’t run.”

Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean a manual transmission will end up on any of Jeep’s production EVs, the first of which will hit the market next year. The automaker considers the Wrangler Magneto and the upgraded 2.0 version to be “an open door to the lab. . .a test bed” that offers Allen and his team the chance to tinker with a working vehicle, with the help of some of the brand’s most diehard supporters. The battery-powered 4×4 also shows hardcore enthusiasts that they have not been forgotten.

A 3/4 front view of the Jeep Wrangler Magneto 2.0 all-electric concept

Jeep Wrangler Magneto 2.0 EV concept

Jeep

These enthusiasts—some of whom may well be members of The Manual Gearbox Preservation Society—are not ready to give up the gearshift. They’re like the music lovers who have held on to vinyl in the cassette, CD, MP3, and streaming eras because they believe it just sounds better. There’s no reason for Gateway to include a manual transmission as an option on the Luxe-GT, other than there are drivers out there who really want it. As long as this interest continues, no matter how niche it may be, someone will continue to put manual transmissions in cars, SUVs and trucks – whether they technically need them or not.

“There are certain technologies that just go down in history because there was never anything really rewarding about it in the first place,” says Macey, describing the satisfaction of a particularly fine downshift. “While other types of technologies or activities have something beyond their functionality.”

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