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Lexus president Koji Sato wants EV supercar to keep the manuals

Lexus president Koji Sato wants EV supercar to keep the manuals
  • Lexus president Koji Sato says he is experimenting with simulating a manual transmission in the forthcoming LFA electric successor.
  • The EV supercar can also feature steer-by-wire, torque vectoring, carbon fiber and solid-state batteries to enhance performance.
  • Lexus claims the car, currently an undisclosed concept, will reach 60 mph in the “two-second low range” and has a range of approximately 435 miles.

    Koji Sato is a lot of things. He is the president of Lexus International, formerly the chief engineer, president of GAZOO Racing, and operating officer and chief branding officer of Toyota. He may soon be able to add “mad scientist” to that list, because Sato, in an interview with Britain’s Top Gear, said he is experimenting with putting a manual gearbox in the LFA’s forthcoming electric successor.

    Yes, you read that right. He wants to find a way to give an EV supercar a gear stick. If he can pull it off, that’s a mission we might be able to get behind.

    At the moment he is tinkering with software to see if he can simulate the feel of a manual to make EVs as attractive to drive as a combustion engine car.

    “It’s a hobby of mine, a crazy thing,” Sato, chief engineer of the luxury Lexus LC coupe, told Top Gear. “I’m looking for better engagement, even in an EV. I want a different link from the car to the driver. It’s not just about efficiency. I love cars and want something different.”

      Koji Sato for the Lexus LC.

      Lexus

      It would certainly be different. In general, EVs do not use a multi-speed transmission, as they are efficient over a wide rev range and can produce maximum torque from zero rpm, unlike gas engines. EV motors also have a high RPM. For context, the Tesla Model S Plaid’s electric motor can spin up to 20,000 rpm – the LFA’s V-10 has a red line of 9,000. This means that a single gear ratio can take a car from zero mph to its maximum speed.

      Sato points to this as one aspect of Lexus’ as-yet-unnamed EV supercar that could have an edge over the LFA. “The response of the vehicle is one of the advantages of the e-motor, the sudden torque is a very unique character with a BEV – the driver can expect a quicker response to their input,” he told Top Gear.

      Still, the power and efficiency of electric motors decrease at high revs, which is why the Porsche Taycan and Audi e-tron GT use a two-speed gearbox for the rear engine. The first Tesla Roadster would also get a two-speed manual transmission that never came. Some Formula E cars even used multi-speed gearboxes, with Lucas di Grassi winning the 2016-17 Formula E World Championship ahead of Abt Schaeffler Audi Sport in a car fitted with a three-speed transmission.

      All this to say that Sato may not be as crazy as he seems. While its software simulation of a gearshift isn’t quite the same as actually using multiple gears and who knows how realistic or involved it is, it’s still one of the innovations that could set the EV supercar apart.

      The unnamed concept, which has no expiration date yet, would hit 60 mph in the “two-second low range” (the LFA did it in 3.7 seconds) and have a range of about 435 miles thanks to in-the-works solid-state battery technology. It will also use torque vectoring to improve handling and “realize vehicle dynamics,” Sato said, as well as steer-by-wire.

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      Being lightweight and aerodynamic is the key to the new supercar. The LFA was notoriously a carbon fiber animal, but Sato was dubious about whether that would also apply to its successor: “We look at the LFA heritage and use carbon fiber where appropriate.”

      However, all this technical talk is secondary to its main purpose with the car.

      “I really want this car to be a halo, a showcase for the future of Lexus driving dynamics, to express Lexus’ overall driving style.”

      If Sato can bring EVs closer to saving the manuals in the process, we’re on board.

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