Toyota’s luxury auto brand Lexus is working on making a manual transmission for EVs. 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, according to the auto publication Evo Magazine.
The manual transmission is making a comeback, much like the Polaroid camera and vinyl records did before it. The stick shift, long thought to be clunky, outdated, and inconvenient (especially in ever-expanding urban areas), is finding its way into an unlikely place: electric vehicles.
Lexus electric manual transmission will use haptics to mimic the feel of a traditional stick shift experience when combined with the brand’s own DIRECT4 twin-motor, which allows for one-wheel, two-wheel, or all-wheel drive. The system will use a gear stick and a clutch pedal, but they will not be connected; instead, software will coordinate both elements’ movements and respond with audio and haptic feedback. The system will even adjust the torque of the electric powertrain in real time. According to Evo, the experience will be so realistic that drivers will be able to stall Lexus’ stick-shift EVs if they haven’t practiced shifting in a while.
Lexus intends to pair the electric manual transmission with its new steer-by-wire system, which will be standard in all of its EVs beginning with the 2023 RZ. Both systems are part of a larger venture into driving components that (contrary to popular belief) have no mechanical connection to the driveline. Lexus has only combined the technologies in a functioning prototype based on the UX300e crossover so far.
The overlap between vehicles with manual transmissions and EVs is…slim. Hyundai introduced the third generation of its i20 supermini in 2020, which runs on gas but can be equipped with a virtual clutch. Ford was discovered 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 earlier this year, but the automaker has yet to unveil a vehicle that uses the technology. Toyota is now following up on its own electric clutch patents, which were discovered and shared on a Toyota message board in February by a Toyota enthusiast.
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.