Simu-Stick: How the “Manual” Transmission Could Be Saved

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Source: Car and Driver
Full Article: Simu-Stick: How the “Manual” Transmission Could Be Saved

Simu-Stick: How the "Manual" Transmission Could Be Saved

Diminishing take rates haven’t curbed our enthusiasm for stick-shift automobiles. The fact is, our latest brainstorm could invigorate our Save the Manuals! agenda.

Carmakers no longer have the luxury of designing, engineering, manufacturing, and certifying two totally different transmissions to serve every customer whim, especially when they know their stick-shift sales will be modest. So our idea is to assign a conventional dual-clutch automatic transmission to the dark reaches of every vehicle. To provide a choice between stick and automatic shifting, the cockpit would be outfitted with what looks, feels, and acts like manual or automatic controls.

It’s a snap for the automatic half of the equation. Provide the usual console lever along with paddles near the steering wheel to offer the driver fully automatic operation when that’s preferred, with the option of going crazy with their own gear selections when traffic-free mountain passes are the venue. This is the new SOP for any car or crossover with sporting intentions.

Imitating a manual transmission demands creativity. As noted above, the box of clutches, gears, shafts, and servos living under the floor is, for all intents, identical to the automatic edition. The difference is mainly control-strategy software plus a fresh approach for the clutch-pedal and stick-shift mechanisms.

The third pedal becomes a clutch-by-wire device. When it’s activated by the driver’s left foot during launch and while shifting, an electrical message is dispatched to the dual-clutch transmission’s controller in lieu of a mechanical or hydraulic signal. That’s trivial. The challenge is contriving a means of providing driver feedback replicating a conventional clutch. This can be done with a computer-controlled servomotor, but tuning such a device is an engineering project.

Porsche 7-speed Manual and 7-speed PDK Automatic Transmissions

When they launched in the 2012 Porsche 911, the seven-speed manual and PDK automatic transmissions shared a basic case design and several internal components. Our idea takes this a step further.

Now turn your attention to the shifter. This also becomes a by-wire mechanism linked electrically, not mechanically, to the transmission controller. Imagine a metal box mounted securely to the center tunnel and covered by a familiar H-pattern plate with a shift lever sprouting out the top. The cool stuff lives inside the box. Electrical contacts note which gear position has been selected, info that is sent by wire to the transmission controller. To give the shift lever a convincing feel, it moves through the H pattern exactly as if it were attached to a manual gearbox. Springs and the ball detents found inside conventional manual transmissions would be fitted and tuned to accurately mimic stick-shift sensations. The stick itself could be toggle-switch tiny or as long as the one your great-grandpa used in his ’39 Ford, depending on the manufacturer’s motives.

Our concept does have some historical precedents. Porsche’s Sportomatic transmissions, available from 1968 through 1980, combined a four-speed manual transmission with a torque converter and a conventional clutch to provide one-hand operation with no clutch pedal or foot action required. Touching the shift lever cued a servo-controlled clutch. Several other European brands shared this approach to semi-automatic transmissions. Tiptronic, Porsche’s better idea that arrived in 1990, used thumb switches (later superseded by paddles) to manually control an otherwise conventional four-speed torque-converter automatic, with manual and automatic modes available at the console lever. The PDK dual-clutch automatic and seven-speed manual transmissions currently available in Porsche 911s share a basic case design and several internal components.

Instead of applying for a patent covering this “technology,” we hereby bestow our Simu-Stick idea to any and all carmakers interested in pursuing its use. From our point of view, every manual saved is a manual earned, even electronic ones.

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