German Company Whips Up Clutch System That Lets Hybrids Easily Use Stick Shifts
Schaeffler's new module slots a 12-kW electric motor between engine and gearbox.
In spite of the existence of such gas-electric wonder wagons as the Porsche 918 Spyder and Ferrari LaFerrari, hybrid cars have never quite caught on with the driving enthusiast community in large numbers. Part of that, no doubt, has to do with the gearboxes most hybrids are saddled with: Apart from the first-generation Honda Insight, the little-loved Honda CR-Z, and a few model years' worth of Honda Civic Hybrids, cars using gas and electric powertrains have pretty much solely been equipped with self-shifting transmissions.
But that may not be the case much longer. German automotive supplier Schaeffler has developed a clutch system designed to bring hybrid power to stick shift vehicles.
The Schaeffler 48-volt hybrid module, as it's called, slots a 12-kilowatt electric motor and a pair of clutches between the car's transmission—be it manual or automatic—and engine. That only works out to 16 horsepower, but that's enough for the system to noodle about town at low speeds on electric power alone, as well as allow the car to coast with the engine off at higher speeds. That, along with other advantages such as recapturing energy from braking and integrated start/stop functionality, makes the system capable of reducing fuel economy by up to 20 percent, according to Autocar. Better yet, the system is designed to be compatible with a wide variety of powertrains, sliding into existing layouts with minimal fuss due to its compact nature. (You can see an interactive breakdown of how it works here.)
As the name suggests, this Schaeffler setup is designed to work with cars using 48-volt electrical systems like the new 2018 Audi A8, instead of the 12-volt electricals commonly found in cars today. The added voltage enables the electric motor to deliver more power without a supplementary battery source like many hybrids use; it also forgoes the need for a secondary cooling system, as certain other hybrids require.
Of course, the long-term future of the manual transmission still seems shaky, as automatics continue to grow more efficient and better-performing. But with hybrids poised to become an ever-growing portion of the automotive market, it's good to see that automakers won't be able to claim that as an excuse to stop offering stick shifts.