Manual transmissions have several advantages over automatics, including less frictional losses, lower weight, greater durability, and significantly lower maintenance and repair costs. Enthusiasts also love them.
However, current designs have drawbacks. Shifting takes time to master, and shift speeds can never match the best automated transmissions. Starting on a hill or parking in a tight space requires a careful touch and practice. Powerful engines can have a heavy clutch. Now, even fuel economy is a big problem: with current manual transmission designs limited to seven speeds at the most, while automatic transmissions can have 10 (the ideal number for fuel economy), manual transmissions now have noticeably worse fuel economy. Because of all this, manuals are disappearing.
I am an enthusiast and I want to bring manual transmissions back by making them perform as well as or better than automatics. My design increases manual transmission performance and fuel economy while maintaining durability and keeping their signature hands-on appeal.
The basic design is fairly simple: a manual transmission with a lockup torque converter instead of a clutch, and a “Z-pattern” shifter to give 10 speeds and decrease shift times.
The torque converter is key to better performance and drivability. The same design used in automatic transmissions, it allows much faster shifting by eliminating clutch work and throttle lifting for a shift. It also gives stress-free starts on hills and easy low-speed maneuvers. Over and under-rev protection come too: if the driver selects the wrong gear, the torque converter stays unlocked and prevents damage to the engine.
The Z-pattern shifter is the main innovation. By placing each gear in sequence, it makes it impossible to lose your place in the transmission and, say, select 4th instead of 8th by mistake. This means the transmission can have as many gears as desired. The Z-pattern also allows faster shifts: because the correct gear is ensured, shifts can be as fast as the driver can move the lever—on par with a good automatic transmission. The figures show possible shifter configurations. While the standard configuration is simpler, some may prefer being able to shift two gears at once.
In use, the transmission functions as follows. Sensors track the position of the gearshift at all times, so the transmission unlocks the torque converter as the shifter moves out of gear and locks it again after the stick stops at another gear. The torque converter also automatically unlocks at very low speeds. Default programming shifts smoothly without the driver lifting the throttle, with the engine automatically given just enough throttle to rev-match upshifts and downshifts for best performance and smoothness. Cruising, the transmission can unlock the torque converter to coast and save fuel, but down hills it locks the converter to keep a direct connection and solid engine braking.
Transmission behaviors (for instance rev-matching and coasting) can be changed from inside the car so drivers can choose what they like, whether sportiness or smoothness or fuel economy.