Honda, like other car manufacturers, is working on a new electric lineup. The world is going electric and EVs are likely to be the main method of personal transportation in the near future. But what about the manual transmission – will it disappear entirely? There are three ways of thinking about them.
The first way – manuals are for classic cars only. You see classic or at least old cars every day. For some drivers, such classic cars just feel nicer to travel in. And that is not going to change as the world will be turning electric – there will be lots of older cars. Your old-school Mustangs and Ferraris will retain their manual transmissions and roaring engines, even if there will be some local pollution limitations about where you can use them.
Toyota way – the emergence of artificial manuals. Electric cars technically do not even need gearboxes. Yes, they do have transmissions (obviously), but one gear forward and one reverse is perfectly enough. However, since electric motors are computer-controlled anyway (the “throttle” pedal is merely a switch), Toyota is working on an artificial manual. You would have your usual controls and the car’s computer would simulate what it would feel like to drive a vehicle with real metal gears under a central lever. Of course, it would be artificial – sort of like switching gears in a computer game. It would be all about the driving experience, even if a big part of it would be a simulation.
Honda way – bye-bye manuals. Honda’s head of electrification Shinji Aoyama in an interview with Car and Driver said that he doesn’t like the idea of a simulated manual and the company would pursue other ways of making electric cars fun to drive. Honda CEO Toshihiro Mibe shared the sentiment and stressed that it is important for Honda sporty EVs to be “edgy”, but he said that he is not sure if manual gearboxes can be supplemented with something in the age of EVs.
Honda is not giving up on the manual transmission just yet. The Japanese automaker is still making petrol-powered cars with a stick-shift. Just that once they are done, they are done. Unless during their market studies they will find something that EVs are lacking and that can be engineered to enhance the driving experience.
Electric cars are losing some dimensions of driver engagement. They can be incredibly fast and responsive, but they are also heavier and do not have the character that the internal combustion engine can offer. People love comparing the engine sound, rev curves, and other characteristics of an old-fashioned engine. This will all be gone from the lips of automotive journalists and pure numbers cannot really replace the feel and emotion.