The manual transmission faces an uncertain future. Increasing emissions standards, future safety technology, and dwindling take rates could spell its demise. But a new patent shows Toyota gives a shift, as we like to say, and it could give the manual gearbox an extended lease on life.
Roadshow discovered the Toyota patent for a "Controller for vehicle and control method for vehicle." Translation: the technology allows for the engine to return to idle while coasting in a car equipped with a manual transmission. In turn, it could help raise fuel economy in cars equipped with a manual transmission, which are often outdone by modern automatics with more gears.
Per the patent's description, the controller gains access to work the car's clutch and gearbox. The system then recognizes safe times to disengage the clutch, pop the car into neutral, and allow the engine to idle while coasting along.
Seems like a neat concept, but as Road & Track points out, the technology harkens back to technology used by Saab in the 1960s. The now-defunct Swedish automaker used a freewheel mechanism to help with lubrication issues found in its 2-stroke engines. The clever freewheel mechanism allowed the wheels to spin faster than the engine while going downhill, which solved the engine's nearly unquenchable thirst for lubrication. The engine would idle, but the car would maintain its speed.
Obviously, this patent is a little more technical than Saab's solution, but the concept is similar. Toyota's potential implementation could even help those unfamiliar with driving a manual transmission, since the patent also details lockout pins to keep drivers from shifting into too low or too high a gear after the system disengages from coasting.