For years we’ve heard about the manual transmission slowly dwindling away into the ether of automotive history. That narrative seems every time you walk the lot of an American auto dealer. Sales in the North American market are dwindling in all but a couple of niches. One of those is the one that you and I care about – sport cars. While many automakers make so apologies from cutting the manual option where there aren’t customers, rowing your own gears remains alive and well in the MINI brand as a standard feature on every car sold. Because of that demand, we believe won’t just continue to offer manuals but actually introduce new features to make them both more efficient, more fun and easier to drive in traffic.
One of BMW and MINI’s key suppliers Schaeffle is currently working on number of enhancements to the manual transmissions that start with what they’re calling the E-Clutch. The idea was born out of the need to increase efficiency.
The concept of the E-Clutch is really three concepts in one. Each of the ideas will show up in transmissions in the coming years with the first scheduled for a 2018 debut. In what car we don’t know. But given MINI’s manual transmission offerings (and the constant need for increased efficiency) don’t be surprised to some of this in both in the years ahead.
1. The Electronically Support Clutch
Depending on the manufacturing partner, the new E-Clutch system can control the clutch under specific driving situations, or entirely automate. For the first time this could integration such fuel saving driving strategies as “sailing” or electrically supported driving into manual transmission equipped cars. IN short it paves the way for the hybridisation of manual transmissions – essential for keeping them on the market in a world of tightening environmental regulations.
2. The Intelligent clutch pedal
In the clutch-by-wire concept, the mechanical or hydraulic connection between the pedal and the clutch release system is replaced completely. The opposing force on the pedal from the clutch release system, which is no longer required, is now generated by a new pedal force adjuster developed by Schaeffler. This contains an additional sensor that sends a signal on the pedal position to a clutch actuator. The driver is therefore not immediately aware of the automatic engagement but continues to drive as normal with a manual transmission. A recently developed, intelligent actuator undertakes the actual opening and closing of the clutch in all driving situations. This consists of a basic actuator that includes all the electronics, the e-motor, and a spindle drive. The connection to the clutch actuation is either mechanical or hydraulic depending on the application. The modular design means that it is universally applicable, which reduces the development time and overall system costs. This is an important factor in order to maintain the cost advantages of manual transmissions over automatic transmissions.
Clutch-by-wire is much more powerful than MTplus: the functionality of this clutch release system means that it can accommodate driving conditions with very high dynamic requirements, such as rapid gear shifting or emergency braking. The option of electrically tuning the transfer from pedal travel to clutch travel is considered particularly convenient. This makes it possible to have gear-related adaptation or a sport mode option, previously only reserved for automatic transmissions.
The performance of this technology can be clearly seen in the “Gasoline Technology Car” (GTC) co-developed by Schaeffler, Ford and Continental, where reductions in fuel consumption and CO2 emissions of 17 per cent were achieved with the automatic clutch making a significant contribution to this.
2. The Pedal-less Clutch
Electronic Clutch Management (ECM) is technically based on the same system as clutch-by-wire, but without a clutch pedal. A sensor provides the signal for disengagement when the driver changes gear. Engagement follows automatically once the gear is selected. The high degree of automation in the ECM provides a good basis for integrating an electric motor into the drive train. By using a suitable battery in a 48V on-board electrical system, this system is used to drive the vehicle in all instances when the engine is running inefficiently, for example, when parking, in stop/start traffic or at low-speed urban driving conditions.
“ECM provides a technically elegant and economical step up to mild hybridisation, which could not be achieved with an automatic transmission,” explains Kneißler.
The E-Clutch system not only opens up new prospects for manual transmissions, but this configuration could provide a way into new markets and market segments for hybrid transmissions.
Of course we can’t be sure what new technologies BMW and MINI have in store of the manual. But we do know that sales will dictate that both brands offer it as an option of a range of cars (in MINI’s case – all of them). Increasing effeciency is one thing. But increasing the technology and simplifying its operation (while staying true to it’s driver oriented roots) could be just what the doctor ordered for a comeback.