Ford's New Patent Could Help Save the Manual Transmission

It could make stick shifts feel far more accessible.

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The manual transmission is more or less in terminal decline. Outside of a few niche enthusiast cars, buyers don't want them. In most cases, those enthusiast cars perform better without driver input, thanks to near-telepathic automatic options. And the manual transmission as constituted would have little use in an electric vehicle — even if those vehicles do have multiple gears.

But Ford may be working on a way to save it for cars like the Mustang and the Bronco.

Muscle Cars & Trucks has uncovered a Ford patent for a new type of manual transmission — one with an electronic system that would eliminate the need for a physical clutch pedal. Sensory input on the knob (i.e. the car knows when you're touching the shift lever) would alert a control module that the driver was about to change gears; the control module would disengage the clutch automatically, then re-engage it once the shift was complete.

The system would not preclude having a physical clutch pedal if the driver wanted to shift more traditionally. The pedal would work as before, though the linkage would be electronic rather than mechanical. The transmission could also feature a manual override button if the driver wanted to dump the clutch to do a burnout.

This transmission is an interesting idea. And it would resolve most buyers' main fear about driving one — modulating the clutch pedal. Whether we see it in the next Ford Mustang, however, may be more of a question about whether people want it.

A primary appeal of the manual transmission is the purity and mechanical nature of the practice — even if artificial enhancements like automatic rev-matching in the Mustang and other cars have been accepted. If you remove the mechanical clutch pedal from the equation, it's not a huge jump to ask why not replace a stick with something like paddles on the steering which are less bulky and quicker to use. And, hey, why not have a full-on automatic mode for situations where using a manual is annoying?


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