Looks like Ford may be working on a touchy/feely way to save the manual transmission, if only for niche petrol-powered sports cars like the Mustang or petrol-electric hybrids.
A patent application filed by the company with the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in December 2018 is for a “manual transmission with electric clutch.”
The USPTO late last year gave the application the serial number 11174940B2. The contents of it only came to light this month via the pages of Muscle Cars & Trucks magazine.
It’s an electro-hydraulic clutch, with a pedal that plays ‘dead’ for clutchless gear changing and becomes ‘alive’ for manual control.
In clutchless mode, sensors built into the gearshift knob tell an electronic actuator/control module that the driver’s hand is about to change gear.
The actuator would in turn tell a pressurised master cylinder to disengage the clutch to enable the gear change, then reengage it once the shift was completed.
Manual control works via a further electronic function linked to the clutch pedal via the actuator: depress the pedal and the system recognises the move to manual mode and overrides the clutchless function. This would in theory enable the driver to dump the clutch to do a burnout.
That’s pretty much it in a nutshell. A patent filing is no indication that the contraption will make it into production. It’s a far more complex mechanism than a traditional, hydraulic-only clutch system.
Critics say it could drive up cost, complicate service, and perhaps compromise reliability. Of course it would have little use in an electric vehicle.
But there is reasoning among engineers that such an electro-hydraulic clutch would be especially compatible with petrol-electric hybrid vehicles with a stop-start system.
Muscle car fans with an eye on the rumoured future hybrid Mustang say the electro-hydraulic mechanism coupled with a combustion engine and electric motors could help takeoff. That would be particularly useful, they say, if such a Mustang has stop-start.
South Korea’s Hyundai recently introduced in India a version of its compact SUV Venue with a seven-speed clutchless manual. Volkswagen years ago had its Autostick system, which used vacuum actuation but also had a torque converter to allow the vehicle to idle at standstill. Ford’s patent would just disengage the clutch.