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Ford developing clutchless manual gearbox for ICE cars

Ford has filed a patent for a clutchless manual transmission for combustion-engined cars, featuring an automated clutch action that does without a third pedal. The driver can also override the automatic clutch function through a pressure-sensitive gear lever.

In the patent files, the gearbox is described as being ‘mounted to the engine block’, indicating that this solution is intended for ICE cars, rather than being a ‘virtual’ manual gearbox for an electric vehicle, similar to the one Toyota has filed patents for.

The system allows the user to change gear simply by moving the gear lever, while an electric actuator operates the clutch. The clutch operation is initiated by pressure sensors in the gear knob, which detect when it is gripped to anticipate the next gear change. The system then calculates the correct clutch actuation based on the next gear ratio and the car’s wheel speed.

Ford’s clutchless manual gearbox can also be used for fast gearshifts thanks to the pressure sensors. Instead of the clutch operating when the gear lever is moved, it can respond when the driver initially grips it, which gives the system more time to operate the clutch during a fast gear change. 

With this new transmission, Ford hopes to simplify the manual gearbox while retaining the most enjoyable aspect – the act of changing gear itself – to improve its popularity. The patent mentions that the automated clutch improves the more “cumbersome” aspects of driving a manual car, such as crawling in traffic.

However, the driver can still take control of the clutch if required, albeit through less than conventional means. The gear knob is deformable and pressure-sensitive, allowing the user to control clutch actuation by squeezing it. There’s also an anti-stall algorithm, whereby the car will override the driver’s poor squeezing action by taking control of the clutch itself. 

Other manufacturers have trialled clutchless manual gearboxes in the past, most notably Mercedes with the original A-Class hatchback. Ford’s system is far more advanced than previous efforts, although whether it will reach production remains to be seen.

Manual vs automatic gearboxes – which should you choose?

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