About the middle of the last decade, Alan Massey realized how bad things were with manual transmissions. The clutch pedal started disappearing from American-made cars before he was even born, but suddenly stick shift wasn’t even available as an option on a muscle car like the Dodge Charger. So, in 2015, he started the Manual Gearbox Preservation Association.
The group is made up of the type of drivers who believe that physically shifting between gears is just as important to driving as putting your foot on the gas or turning the steering wheel. Macy’s isn’t that dogmatic—his garage is home to both manual and automated—but the longtime car enthusiast and industry veteran worries about how automated driving has become.
“I grew up in the rural suburbs of Detroit. I spent a lot of time driving jeeps and minivans on those back roads and having a lot of fun,” said Macy. Rob report. “If I were to make an observation about how cars have evolved in my life, it’s becoming increasingly less engaging.”
Maisie has no illusions. He knows that manual transmissions will not see a sudden surge in popularity. At the beginning of the 1980s, the percentage of cars that rolled off American production lines with a gearshift system was only 35 percent, according to 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 Macy doesn’t choose a suit for a manual gearbox funeral, either. Indeed, the growing popularity of electric cars—many of which are being sold on the promise that they will further automate the driving experience—has already given him renewed optimism about a manual transmission.
“I think it was in the ’70s when quartz watches came out,” he said. “And there were probably a lot of people who thought that Swiss automatic watches would just be a thing of the past. That even came 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.”
If you know anything about how electric cars work, you’d probably think Macy’s hope is misplaced, mainly because one of the main selling points of an all-electric powertrain is that it doesn’t need a multi-gear transmission to function. Unlike an internal combustion engine, which has such a narrow RPM range that it can operate efficiently—the reason you need to shift through gears to keep it from stalling—an electric motor has a much wider optimum range that only requires one gear. This is why nearly every EV comes with a single-speed direct-shift transmission.
But there are exceptions. Take, for example, the Porsche Taycan. First introduced in the fall of 2019, the electric vehicle is a true high-performance vehicle capable of 0-60 mph in 2.6 seconds and a top speed of 161 mph. But what really caught the eye of some enthusiasts was the two-speed transmission on the rear axle.
The Taycan gearbox is an in-house invention, so we don’t know all of its intricacies, but this is it Wired The article does a good job of breaking things down. Basically, first gear gives the Taycan more access to its torque, allowing it to accelerate faster; The second allows the motor to spin at a lower speed while maintaining speed, thus improving efficiency.
The Taycan shifts between the two gears automatically—at about 62mph, according to Engineering Explained—but having a multi-speed transmission opens up the possibility for drivers to do the shifting themselves. And although Porsche is not giving this privilege to drivers of its electric cars yet, other brands are already open to the possibility.
Over the past year, three different companies have shown their willingness to put in place a steady EV shift. During last year’s Monterey Car Week, Gateway Bronco introduced an all-electric version of its popular RestoMode available with an optional five-speed manual transmission. Then, in February of this year, a Toyota patent surfaced that outlined an electric vehicle system that included a (albeit fake) transmission and clutch. Finally, in April, Jeep unveiled its second concept Wrangler Magneto, which comes with a six-speed manual for “complete drivetrain control.”
There’s only one electric car you can buy today with a manual gearbox: Gateway’s Luxe-GT Ford Bronco. The newest addition to the Illinois restaurant line-up starts at $265,000 and is indistinguishable from its gas-powered models until you open the hood. There you’ll find a Legacy EV electric box motor pumping out 400 horsepower and 800 foot-pounds of torque. As with most electric vehicles, 4×4 torque is instantly available, but if you want more control over that output, the shop will hook up the drive unit to a five-speed manual gearbox that sends power to all four wheels.
If you opt for a manual transmission—which earns an additional $11,229—you’ll see two major benefits, according to Gateway founder Seth Burgett. The first is self-explanatory: the feeling of shifting through the gears 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 who’s used to their paddle will feel right at home in gears three through five. The second advantage is the extra control, especially when driving off-road, which can be challenging with an internal combustion engine, requiring real patience and control, and garnishing the clutch to get the right power and torque. That’s not the case with Gateway’s EV, where twist and thrust are available instantly, with the click of the foot, once the correct gear setting is in.
“When you have an electrician, it’s very precise,” Burgett said. “You hit the gas pedal until you get the torque and speed you need, and then you back off. You have tighter control with an electric-powered off-road vehicle than you do with a gas-powered vehicle.”
Burgett isn’t the only one who has found this to be the case. Jeep brought the battery-powered Wrangler Magneto to the last two installments of the Moab Easter Safari. The car is a retrofit that started out as a gas-powered SUV, but had its old engine replaced with an electric motor unit. One aspect that hasn’t been modified is the six-speed manual transmission. While by no means necessary, the automaker has seen actual benefits to the feature, especially when it comes to off-roading.
“The really cool thing is the off-road handling and dexterity, especially in really tough situations,” said Mark Allen, Jeep Chief Design Officer. Rob report. “The car reacts like a manual transmission, where the driving is direct. I don’t have a torque converter to overpower or under it. But the cool thing is you can’t turn it off—that’s always the fear when you’re driving a manual transmission in a rocky off-road situation. But it doesn’t It can stop, because it’s not working.”
Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that a manual gearbox will enter one of the production Jeep electric vehicles, the first of which is scheduled to be released next year. The automaker views the Wrangler Magneto and the upgraded 2.0 as an “open door to a lab . . . a test bed” that offers Allen and his team a chance to tinker with a working vehicle, with the help of some of the brand’s staunchest supporters. The battery powered 4×4 also shows hardcore enthusiasts who haven’t forgotten.
These enthusiasts—some of whom may even be members of the Manual Gearbox Preservation Society—aren’t ready to give up on stick shifting. They’re like the audiophiles who stuck to vinyl through the ages of cassette, CD, MP3, and streaming because they think it simply sounds better. There’s no reason Gateway would include a manual transmission as an option on the Luxe-GT, except that there are drivers who really want it. As long as that interest remains, no matter how specialized, someone will continue to put manual gearboxes in cars, SUVs, and trucks—whether or not they technically need them.
“There are some technologies that fade into history because there was nothing truly rewarding about them in the first place,” Massey says when describing the satisfaction of turning into a particularly gentle retreat. “Whereas other types of technologies or activities, there is something about them that goes beyond their functionality.”
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