For decades, as car engines and drivetrains have continued to advance, the manual transmission has defied most additions of new technology. Now, a patent from General Motors hints at a significant new technology that could help the old-fashioned stick-shift survive the 21st century. And it's got interesting implications for the mid-engine Corvette.
uncovered a patent filing titled "electric slave cylinder for manually shifted vehicles," published in early September. The patent describes an innovative clutch-by-wire system, whereby an electronic sensor on the clutch pedal sends signal to an electric slave cylinder mounted in the transmission. Instead of the traditional hydraulic system that converts the motion of the clutch pedal into pressure to disengage the clutch from the flywheel, this system would translate your operation of the clutch pedal into an electronic signal that would operate a motor-actuated clutch plate in the transmission.
The implications here are huge. Such an electronic system would completely eliminate the hydraulics that operate the clutch in nearly every modern manual-shift vehicle on the road. This electronic system would also make it possible for the car's computer systems to control clutch engagement and disengagement. As the patent describes, such an electronically-operated system would provide consistent pedal feedback regardless of how worn-down the clutch is. And extrapolating a bit, it's easy to see that such a system could also allow for the car to smooth out an inexperienced driver's clutch technique, or even let the car automatically operate the clutch, perhaps in stop-and-go driving.
And , this clutch-by-wire system could have important implications for the mid-engine Corvette that we keep seeing in testing. The traditional hydraulic clutch gets a bit complicated in a mid-engine vehicle, requiring a hydraulic circuit running from the (rear-mounted) transmission to the passenger compartment and back. A clutch-by-wire system would save weight and eliminate complication, potentially making it easier for an automaker to offer a stick-shift in a mid-engine platform.
So far, the C8 Corvette prototypes we've seen testing all seem to have automatic transmissions, likely of the dual-clutch variety. And we should point out that GM's clutch-by-wire patent does not mention any specific vehicle or application. Automakers frequently patent new technologies with no intent of including them in production vehicles. It's safe to assume that this clutch-by-wire system might never move beyond some schematic drawings on a patent application.
But we like the fact that GM is investigating ways of making the traditional three-pedal manual transmission cooperate with our increasingly advanced, electronically-controlled modern vehicles. And if it leads to a stick-shift C8, so much the better.