Why might the manual gearbox return in some performance EVs?

With a handful of exceptions, most electric vehicles don’t have (or need) multi-speed transmissions. According to some well-respected EV engineers and executives, they may even detract from performance.

As such, a performance EV is an odd place to see a manual gearbox. Yet a couple of experiments have cropped up recently, suggesting automakers are considering transcribing this idea—or at least the sensory experience—over to EVs.

Lexus is testing a prototype of its UX 300e, an all-electric version of the UX crossover not sold in the U.S., with a gear lever and clutch pedal, according to a company press release. This retains the level of involvement of a conventional manual, according to Lexus, but without any of the mechanical bits.

“It is a software based system,” Akashi Watanabe, Lexus Electrified Chief Engineer, said in a statement, “so it can be programmed to reproduce the driving experience of different vehicle types, letting the driver choose their preferred programming.”

Lexus UX 300e

Lexus UX 300e

Lexus hasn’t discussed a timeline for production, but the Toyota luxury brand has at least one possible application for this idea in the works. It’s expected to launch an electric sports car based on the Electrified Sport concept first shown in December 2021, which seems like a good fit for a manual—even a software-based one.

Hyundai is also working on a dual-clutch transmission for EVs, testing one in the RN22e “rolling lab” prototype, according to Australia’s CarExpert. While not a traditional manual, it would still introduce artificial shifting, this time reportedly accompanied by fake engine sounds.

Hyundai RN22e Concept

Hyundai RN22e Concept

Hopefully these new efforts will turn out better than what’s come before. Lotus tried to add fake shifting to its Evora plug-in hybrid development car a decade ago—with poor results.

More recently, Honda added fake shifting to the 2023 CR-V Hybrid, a move we find a bit embarrassing. Because unlike one-pedal driving, pretending to change cogs in this way alters the driving experience just to recreate sensations from internal-combustion cars.

Still, EVs with manuals may be the only way to save the clutch pedal. Manual sales have declined consistently for decades, and they now represent a tiny fraction of the market. EVs outsold manuals for the first time in 2019, in fact.

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