With only a rare exception or two, today’s battery-electric vehicles rely on single-speed transmissions. But Lexus confirmed it is working up a manual gearbox that could be incorporated into the all-electric replacement for its LFA sports car.
The system is designed to simulate the distinctive behavior of a manual transmission, revealed Lexus Electrified Chief Engineer Takashi Watanabe, during a conference in Europe. And that will permit a driver to not only program the way it acts and feels, but also select from simulated exhaust sounds that match the way the 2-door model will be driven.
Lexus and its parent, Toyota, have been tinkering with the idea of using a manual transmission on a battery-electric vehicle for several years. The company applied for a patent on a system a year ago and currently is testing a prototype on a Lexus UX300e. But the Japanese automaker isn’t the only one that may add a multi-gear transmission to an EV.
System simulates a manual transmission
“This new project all started with some Lexus engineers reflecting on what they liked about traditional (gas-powered) vehicles and what they had to miss out on with electric cars,” Watanabe explained. “A manual transmission was one thing they enjoyed in particular.”
The system also introduces another piece that many performance drivers say they miss with an EV: an exhaust note. Today’s EVs are virtually silent.
The system that Lexus hopes to use in the LFA successor will feature an actual gearshift lever and clutch pedal, as well as a tachometer. But it’s all smoke-and-mirrors. As with virtually all other battery-cars, the electric drive system will continue to use a single-speed transmission (or transmissions, depending upon the final drive layout of the sports car. It is almost certain to draw power from at least two electric motors.)
How it works
One of the advantages of an electric motor is the ability to produce steady torque across a wide range of RPMs. Indeed, electric motors deliver maximum torque the moment they start spinning.
In normal mode, the transmission will operate like other EVs. When manual mode is turned on, said Watababe it will activate a “simulated drive force map with pedal and shift positions to reproduce the feeling of a manual transmission.” When functioning as a manual, the sports car will have forward creep, much like a gas-powered model. It will be able to roll backwards on a hill if the clutch is depressed, and even stall out, according to Lexus.
All the while, the system also will produce simulated audio meant to sound like the LFA replacement would were it using an internal combustion engine.
Toyota belatedly pushing into the EV market
The LFA replacement, which currently is being referred to as the Electrified Sport, is still at least a few years out. Toyota has been slow to make a push into all-electric technology, only this year introducing its first long-range model, the Toyota bZ4X.
But it has promised to ramp up its program. Last December, CEO Akio Toyoda promised to have at least 20 EVs in production by the end of the decade and an internal study now underway may lead the Japanese giant to accelerate that effort.
Toyota, with Lexus, isn’t the only automaker looking for ways to simulate what its like to drive a conventional performance car.
Toyota won’t be alone
Porsche, with its Taycan, is one of the few manufacturers that has so far gone with a true multi-speed gearbox – and only on one of the sports car’s axles.
Earlier this year, however, Dodge unveiled the Challenger Daytona concept and revealed plans to use a multi-speed gearbox which it dubbed the eRupt transmission. While specific details weren’t revealed during a preview, Dodge officials hinted the production Daytona will use at least actual gears.
While the eRupt system appears to use an actual step-gear transmission, the “fratzonic chambered exhaust” will kick in with simulated, matching audio, much like what Lexus is working on.
“We’re going to do something people won’t see coming – though they’ll hear it coming,” said Tim Kuniskis, the Dodge brand boss, in August.