Before General Motors debuted the first mass-produced automatic transmission in 1939, the previous half-century of automobiles asked drivers to shift their gears via a shift lever and a clutch. Fast forward to today, and fewer and fewer manual-transmission vehicles are sold in Canada every year. And that trend is accelerating with the proliferation of new battery-electric cars, the vast majority employing a single-gear transmission.
But if you’re a driving enthusiast who would like to take control of your gears in your EV, here’s a look at the current and future of manual transmissions in EVs.
Why Don’t EVs Need Multiple Transmission Gears?
There’s only one answer here: torque. All vehicle engines – gasoline, hybrid, or battery-electric – generate torque. The more torque an engine has, the easier it is to get your vehicle to accelerate, tow, haul, or climb steep hills.
Internal combustion engine cars typically operate effectively at around 1,000 revolutions per minute (RPMs) to several thousand, depending on the engine. The engine’s torque builds up from low RPMs, then peaks at higher revs.
Comparatively, the electric motors in EVs produce the maximum amount of torque nearly instantaneously at low motor RPMs. With the ability to access all that torque, EVs can quickly get up to speed without the help of a multi-speed transmission's low gear. Even without multi-speed transmissions, many EVs can move more urgently than the quickest gasoline-powered cars. While at higher RPMs, electric motors still produce plenty of horsepower, if not as much torque.
Why Does an EV Need a Manual Gearbox?
While many EV drivers enjoy the smoothness of their car’s single-gear transmission, there are also some potential disadvantages.
For example, high-performance EVs can benefit from a transmission with a short gear for low speeds and a taller gear for high speeds. Sometimes, a short first gear can also provide marginally better acceleration. A multi-gear transmission could also benefit the driver of an EV designed to go off-road. A very short first gear can simulate the low range of a traditional transfer case, providing exceptional torque and control in tricky driving conditions.
Are There Any Current EVs With a Manual Gearbox?
There is currently no EV with a manual multi-gear transmission, a shift lever, and a clutch pedal. But there are two exceptions to the single-gear EV norm: the Porsche Taycan and Audi e-tron GT performance EVs share a two-speed automatic transmission housed in their rear axles.
Developed by Porsche, the transmission’s short first gear delivers quicker acceleration from a standing start. The long second gear enables more power at higher speeds (the two gears up or down-shift automatically at around 100 km/h). According to Porsche, the top Turbo S version of the Taycan accelerates from zero to 100 km/h in just 2.8 seconds, and the top speed of all-wheel drive model is 260 km/h.
Will We See Manual Gearboxes in Future EVs?
As automakers expand their EV lineups beyond the current commuter car and SUV models, offering a multi-gear or manual transmission in a performance EV might attract diving enthusiasts who want to experience the immediacy of a torque-rich electric motor and get some extra engagement from their EV.
The two-speed transmission in the Porsche and Audi performance EVs may allow drivers to select their own gears one day. In the near term, it’s unlikely to see any EVs with authentic manual transmissions with clutch pedals and stick shifts. However, some companies have already debuted EV concepts with multi-gear transmissions to test for interest.
Ford was among the first to hypothesize the concept of marrying an EV with a manual stick shift transmission. As part of the automaker's presence at the 2019 Specialty Equipment Manufacturer Association show (SEMA), the 1,000-horsepower Ford Mustang Lithium EV concept was demonstrated with a six-speed manual transmission and a clutch pedal.
Toyota is already planning a performance EV previewed by its Sports EV concept, while its Lexus luxury brand is planning a battery-electric successor to its LFA supercar. Plus, this past February, the Japanese automaker filed a patent in the U.S. describing a gearbox with a fake clutch, fake shifter, and three transmission modes (clutch, clutchless, and automatic), with programming to simulate the experience of driving a manual transmission.
Jeep has showcased its battery-powered Wrangler Magneto at the last two Moab Easter Safari annual events. The Magneto started as a gas-powered 4×4 but saw its old engine swapped out for an electric drive unit. However, one aspect that hasn’t been modified is the concept’s six-speed manual transmission.
Another Stellaentis brand, Dodge, has announced its next generation of electric sports sedans and coupes will offer a multi-speed transmission that can be shifted manually. Don’t be surprised to find the production version of the all-electric Dodge Charger Daytona SRT Concept – with its 400-volt system output levels of 340 kilowatts (456 hp) and 440 kilowatts (590 hp) and an as-yet-unannounced, factory-delivered, power-level 800-volt SRT Banshee powertrain package – with a manual transmission.