Why the manual transmission could still have a future in the age of electric vehicles: Robb Report

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

The group is made up of the kind of drivers who believe that physically changing gears is just as important to driving as stepping on the accelerator or turning the wheel. Macey isn’t quite as dogmatic — his garage houses both a manual and an automatic — but the longtime car lover 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 having a lot of fun,” Macey said. Robb Report. “If I had to make one observation about how cars have evolved in my life, it is that they have become less and less attractive.”

2018 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat

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

Photo: Courtesy of FCA US LLC

Macey is under no illusions. He knows the manual transmission won’t experience a sudden surge in popularity. In the early 1980s, the percentage of cars rolling off American production lines with stick shifts was only 35 percent, according to The New York Times. In 2020, that number was just over one percent (or about 188,000 cars), which might explain why only 18 percent of the country’s drivers know how to operate one. But Macey won’t be picking out a suit for the manual gearbox funeral, either. In fact, the growing popularity of electric vehicles, many of which are sold with the promise that they will further automate the driving experience, has actually given renewed optimism for the manual transmission.

“I think it was in the 1970s that quartz watches came along,” he said. “And there were probably a lot of people who thought that Swiss automatic watches would be a thing of the past. That even came up more recently with the Apple Watch. But I think we are all well aware that luxury [mechanical] The watch industry is very much alive and thriving.”

2022 Porsche Taycan GTS

Porsche Taycan GTS sedan

Porsche

If you know anything about how electric vehicles work, you probably think Macey’s hope is misplaced, mainly because one of the main selling points of an all-electric powertrain is that you don’t need a multi-gear transmission to drive. function. Unlike an internal combustion engine, which has a narrow RPM range in which it can run efficiently (which is why you need to change gears to avoid stalling), an electric motor has a much longer optimum range. wide that requires only one gear. . That’s why almost all electric vehicles come with a single-speed direct transmission.

But there are exceptions. Take, for example, the porsche taycan. Introduced in the fall of 2019, the German brand’s debut EV is a true performance vehicle capable of accelerating from zero to 60mph in 2.6 seconds and reaching a top speed of 161mph. But what really caught the attention of some enthusiasts is the two-speed transmission on its rear axle.

The Taycan’s gearbox is an in-house invention, so we don’t know all of its intricacies, but East cabling 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 allows the motor to rotate at a lower speed while maintaining speed, thus improving efficiency.

Porsche Taycan Turbo S

Porsche Taycan Turbo S

Porsche

The Taycan shifts between the two gears automatically, at around 62mph, according to Engineering Explained—but the presence of a multi-speed transmission opens up the possibility that drivers can make the shifts themselves. And while Porsche doesn’t yet grant that privilege to its EV drivers, other brands are already open to the possibility.

Over the past year, three different companies have shown their willingness to put a stick shift in an EV. During 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. So, this February, a Toyota patent surfaced who described a system for electric vehicles that includes a gear stick and a clutch (albeit a fake one). Finally, in April, Jeep unveiled its second Wrangler Magneto conceptIt comes equipped with a six-speed manual transmission for “ultimate control over the powertrain.”

Gateway Bronco Luxe GT EV

Gateway Bronco Luxe GT EV

bronco door

There’s only one EV you can buy today with a manual gearbox: Gateway’s Luxury-GT Ford Bronco. The latest addition to the Illinois shop’s lineup of restomods starts at $265,000 and is indistinguishable from its gas-powered models until you open the hood. There you will find a Legacy EV-sourced electric crate motor which pumps out 400 hp and 800 ft lbs of torque. As is the case with most EVs, the 4×4’s torque is instantly available, but if you want even more control over that output, the shop will hook up the transmission unit to a five-speed manual gearbox that sends power to all four wheels.

If you opt for the manual transmission, which adds an extra $11,229, you’ll see two major benefits, according to Gateway founder Seth Burgett. The first is self-explanatory: the feeling of changing gear yourself. You won’t get much use out of the first two gears (it’s not like you have to worry about stalling), but anyone used to rowing will only feel at home in gears three through five. The second advantage is the added control, especially when driving off-road, which can be tricky with an internal combustion engine, requiring a lot of patience and control, stepping on the clutch to get the right power and torque. That’s not the case with the Gateway EV, where turning and propulsion are immediately available, with a tap of the foot, once in the correct gear setting.

“When you have an electric one, it’s extraordinarily accurate,” Burgett said. “You press the accelerator pedal until you have the torque and speed you need, and then you back off. You have much tighter control with an electric-powered off-road vehicle than you do with a gas-powered vehicle.”

Inside the Gateway Bronco Luxe GT EV

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

bronco door

Burgett isn’t the only one who has found this to be the case. Jeep has brought the Battery-powered Wrangler Magneto to the last two installments of their annual Moab Easter Safari. The vehicle is a modification that started as a gasoline 4×4, but its old engine was replaced by an electric one. However, one aspect that has not changed is its six-speed manual transmission. While it’s by no means necessary, the automaker has seen real benefits in the feature, especially when it comes to off-roading.

“What’s really cool is the off-road control and finesse, particularly in a really tough situation,” said Mark Allen, Jeep chief designer. Robb Report. “The vehicle reacts like a manual transmission, where it is direct transmission. I don’t have a torque converter to go over or under. But the good thing is you can’t stop it, and that’s always the fear when you’re driving a manual transmission in a tough off-road situation. But it can’t stop, because it’s not working.”

Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean a manual gearbox will make its way to one of Jeep’s production electric vehicles, the first of which is scheduled to debut next year. The automaker sees the Wrangler Magneto and the upgraded 2.0 version as “an open door to the lab. . .a dyno” that offers Allen and his team the chance to modify a working vehicle, with the help of some of the brand’s most die-hard fans. The battery powered 4×4 also shows hardcore enthusiasts that they have not been forgotten.

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

Jeep Wrangler Magneto 2.0 EV Concept

all terrain

These enthusiasts, some of whom may well be members of The Manual Gearbox Preservation Society, aren’t ready to give up stick shifting. They’re like music lovers who have clung to vinyl through the cassette, CD, MP3, and streaming eras because they think it just sounds better. There’s no reason for Gateway to include a manual transmission as an option on the Luxe-GT, except that some drivers really want it. As long as this interest remains, no matter how specific, someone will continue to put manual gearboxes in cars, SUVs, and trucks, whether they technically need them or not.

“There are certain technologies that just fade into history because there was never anything really rewarding about them in the first place,” says Macey, describing the satisfaction of a particularly nice downshift. “While other types of technologies or activities, there is something about them that transcends their functionality.”

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