Toyota’s Electric Car Faux-Manual Transmission Simulator for an Authentic Driving Experience

    The Decline and Potential Revival of the Manual Transmission in Electric Vehicles

    In a world moving towards electric vehicles (EVs) and automatic transmissions, Toyota has surprised us with a glimmer of hope for manual transmission enthusiasts. The Japanese carmaker recently filed a patent for a manual transmission simulator for EVs and gave us a glimpse of this technology during a test drive at its Shimoyama R&D Center in Toyota City, Japan. While it may seem completely unnecessary, this experience proved to be one of the most amusing things we’ve ever done in an EV.

    The manual transmission, once a staple in American car culture, has slowly faded into obscurity. As the transition to electric vehicles continues, the need for multi-speed gearboxes seems to be diminishing. However, Toyota’s manual transmission simulator offers a breath of fresh air for those who still appreciate the joy of shifting gears.

    During the test drive, we discovered that both the shifter and clutch pedal in the Toyota UX300e test vehicle were simply dummies, connected to electrical wires that relayed information to the computer. The clutch pedal’s resistance came from a return spring, while a potentiometer measured its travel. Although there was no physical connection, the simulator replicated the feel of a real clutch surprisingly well.

    To operate the simulator, we started the car and selected “D” from a rotary dial on the center console. With the brake engaged, the gear selector in neutral, and the clutch released, we pressed the engine start button located just behind the manual stick. The speakers emitted the sound of a simulated engine roaring to life, while the tachometer on the dashboard indicated idle speed. It truly felt like we were in a traditional manual transmission vehicle, even though there was no actual gearbox.

    Once the car was rolling, shifting into first gear was as simple as gently releasing the clutch. However, releasing the clutch too quickly or without applying the accelerator resulted in a gentle bucking motion, simulating a stall. Despite the sensation, the EV was still in gear and ready to proceed. Interestingly, the system recognized shifts without the use of the clutch, eliminating the risk of damaging the gears but also reducing the excitement of shifting.

    Toyota meticulously designed the simulator to resemble the real driving experience, complete with a somewhat heavy clutch effort based on the feel of the GR Corolla. Intentionally mishandling a shift caused the car to lurch as we released the clutch. Engaging 6th gear at a low speed resulted in a lack of torque, mimicking the behavior of a gas-powered car. The accelerator pedal even had a slight lag to dampen the instant response of the electric motor, further enhancing the authenticity of the experience.

    While the simulator provided an enjoyable and convincing imitation of a manual transmission, it could be toggled on and off using the engine start button. When turned off, the car seamlessly switched back to single-speed electric drive, which offered greater responsiveness but lacked the engagement of the manual simulator. The purpose of this technology is to inject some fun into the otherwise mundane experience of driving an electric vehicle.

    Considering the declining popularity of manual transmissions and the growing preference for compact and minimalistic interiors, it is uncertain whether Toyota will ever mass-produce such a system. However, the simulator could potentially be offered as an add-on kit, allowing enthusiasts to retrofit their EVs and choose from a variety of shifters inspired by Toyota’s most iconic models.

    In conclusion, the manual transmission simulator for EVs presented by Toyota offers a glimmer of hope for manual transmission enthusiasts in an era dominated by electric and automatic vehicles. While it remains uncertain whether this technology will ever reach the market, it undoubtedly serves as a reminder that there are still people at Toyota who appreciate the joys of driving a manual. As we navigate the future of automotive technology, it’s both exciting and comforting to know that the spirit of the manual transmission may not fade away entirely.

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