Toyota is bringing a simulated manual transmission to its electric vehicles. It's apparently pretty fun, and the Japanese automaker's way to add more engagement to its EVs likely won't be limited to just six or seven speeds, like most manuals these days. A recent patent application from the automaker published just a few days ago claims there's technically no limit to how many "gears" such a device may have. Images published alongside the technical document show as many as 14 speeds. How does that actually work? The automaker explains that, too.
The patent goes into a lot of detail concerning the ins and outs of such a system. In a nutshell, the driver will be able to select exactly how many ratios they want. "The number of the virtual gear stage may be six stages or more, or less than six stages," the document notes. "A driver is allowed to select a desired pattern in line with his/her preference."
The whole "select a pattern" part is a little misleading, though. To be clear, the automaker does not describe some kind of electro-mechanical system to effectively create as many physical shift gates as the user desires. Instead, there would be a fixed number of actual gates; likely six but Toyota uses four as an example. A gear is selected just like a regular manual, however the lever may return to the neutral position after it's used. Then, as the driver goes through the gears, the virtual pattern shifts to the next set of "ratios." So if there's a pattern of six gears and sixth is selected, a display will change the available ratios inviting the driver to go up to seventh and all of the gears after that, or down to fifth and the existing set of gears.
Confusing? Well, there's a reason why automakers have never gone for more than seven gears in normal passenger cars. A 14-speed manual isn't practical when mated to a gasoline-burning combustion engine. When your manual transmission is just being simulated, though, Toyota seems to think there's no harm in giving people a choice.