Toyota, the world’s largest automaker, has turned heads with a new development in its electric vehicle technology that brings an unexpected hit of nostalgia for seasoned drivers – a simulated manual transmission. According to a patent report filed by Toyota in May 2023 and obtained by CNN, future models of the company’s electric vehicles could potentially include a fake clutch, effectively simulating the experience of switching gears as in manual vehicles.
Driving Experience Enhanced: A Simulated Clutch and Downshifting
This innovative feature aims to provide drivers with a more immersive driving experience. The simulated manual transmission would not only include a clutch pedal but also simulate downshifting, allowing drivers to slow the vehicle using the “transmission” rather than the brake. This allows the illusion of control typically associated with a manual transmission, providing an additional layer of interactivity to the EV driving experience.
Fanfare or Future?
Despite the high-tech façade of this feature, it appears to be more of a novelty than a functional necessity. CNN labels the simulated manual transmission as “just for fun” with no essential functional purpose. However, drivers will have the option to disable the feature entirely. Despite this, these potential models could appeal to drivers interested in a nostalgic driving experience or those seeking to feel less electronic and more mechanic in their electric vehicles. Toyota has yet to comment on which future models may contain this feature or whether it will lead to a cost increase for consumers.
Preserving the Past
Other automakers, such as Dodge, are also working on ways to bring past experiences into the future, such as developing a symphony of fake engine sounds for its upcoming lineup of electric muscle cars. Lexus, part of Toyota’s high-performance EV efforts, is also developing a shifting system that mimics the feel of a clutch and a stick shift in an electric car. The attempts to merge the past with the future indicate a deep-seated anxiety about the approaching obsolescence of the internal combustion engine. Particularly, the focus on manual transmissions is intriguing, given that this technology has been in decline for decades. According to CarMax, in 2018, only 3.7% of new vehicles sold came with a manual transmission, dropping to 2.7% in 2020.
Industry Skepticism and Future Directions
As automakers grapple with the transition, there is evident skepticism about the rise of EVs, even though significant investments continue to be made in their development. They face the uncertainty of whether and what kinds of subcultures will develop around EVs, and they are nervous about the potential loss of appeal to hobbyists and the aftermarket restorations market—sectors that the auto industry has historically excelled in.
Are Fake Sounds and Simulated Gears the Answer?
Toyota engineers say they’re aiming to “wow” customers with their innovations, but it remains to be seen how drivers will receive these artificially constructed experiences, which some liken to video game driving simulators. Critics argue that drivers interested in a manual transmission experience could just visit a video game arcade and play a driving simulator. This skepticism raises the question: is replicating traditional manual driving the right path for the future of electric vehicles?
Preserving the Old, Embracing the New
In an effort to retain existing customers, many automakers are looking to incorporate elements of traditional driving into their electric vehicles. These initiatives are largely directed toward gearheads and drag racers who value the tactile feel and sounds of combustion engines. However, as more people come to appreciate the advantages of electric vehicles, it’s clear that the industry needs to find a balance between preserving the past and forging ahead into the future.
Stepping Into a New Era
As we step into a new era of transportation, it’s important for the auto industry to ensure that the charm of driving isn’t lost but rather reimagined for an electric future. While the simulated manual transmission and artificial engine sounds may not appeal to all, it represents a stepping stone in the journey towards a fully electric future. In conclusion, Toyota’s move to introduce simulated manual transmission in its electric vehicles has sparked a debate within the industry and among consumers. As automakers navigate this transition period, the focus should be on embracing and enhancing the unique features of electric vehicles rather than holding onto the past. This dynamic blend of the old and new is what will truly drive the industry forward into the future.
As Toyota continues to innovate in electric vehicle technology, Google also steps up with their Project Tailwind.