BYD Creates The “Raptor Island” Of Manual Transmission EVs
Have a couple hours to waste? Me neither, but back in 2004, I did. That’s when I watched Raptor Island, a direct-to-DVD film that tried to bring back the magic of Jurassic Park, but on a budget. Fortunately, you too can experience the budget version of dinosaur magic, and only spend a couple minutes doing it.
While 1993’s Jurassic Park is certainly dated by special effects standards, it’s pretty clear which of the two films is McDonald’s and which of them is the “food at home.”
This isn’t the only time a cheap version of a movie came out to capitalize on the fame and success of a blockbuster film (or its sequels). It’s actual a whole industry, known as “mockbusters.” With similar names, similar stories, and even similar packaging/marketing, companies put out a cheap version of the film that comes out about the same time.
The Jurassic World Of EVs With Manual Transmissions
One thing I keep hearing people say is that EVs don’t need transmissions. While that’s technically true, they actually can benefit from them, as I point out in this article. Also, The Porsche Taycan has a two-speed transmission in the rear drive unit that helps both range and performance quite a bit. But, let’s go further back, before Tesla pushed the industry to electrify, and even before cars like the EV-1.
Before that, you could get an EV. You couldn’t just get one from Tesla, Ford, Volkswagen, or any other manufacturer. You’d have to convert a gasoline car to run on electric, or you’d have to buy one from somebody who did that. Without the budgets needed to build a custom single-speed drive unit, and with many people using leftover DC motors from things like forklifts, you’d need to find an off-the-shelf solution for gear reduction, and maybe even multiple gear ratios.
The answer was obvious. While it wouldn’t work out terribly well to run an automatic transmission (especially the older ones), the manual transmission that was already installed in many conversion cars was the best choice. For one, it’s already there. For two, you don’t have to order something in if you use what’s already there. Plus, unlike running a manual in a gas car, you don’t have to worry about clutching to stop or take off, as the electric motor can run at zero RPM.
Many electric conversions turn out to be kind of janky, with limited range, limited power, and iffy highway performance, but professional and really good amateur conversions could be great performers. For example, here’s an electric Ferrari we reviewed, and this same vehicle was described as “borderline scary” in first gear by Jalopnik.
In other words, it’s not only possible to build an EV with a real manual transmission, but it’s something that can be a lot of fun while still being easy to drive.
BYD Makes A Mockbuster Of The Manual Transmission
A couple weeks ago, images started floating around of a weird car BYD is making for driving schools in China. It’s the BYD E3, but with a fake manual transmission. Like the mockbuster films, BYD managed to find a way to make a cool idea (a manual transmission in an EV) into something that’s really cringe.
Before I get to how they low-rezzed this one, let’s take a quick look at the “why”. In China, a driver’s license isn’t a driver’s license. If you get a driver’s license in the States, it generally covers anything unless you’re running a large commercial vehicle. As long as you’re not being paid to haul something, you could even drive a semi-truck. Many people get themselves into real trouble with U-Haul trucks, for example:
I don’t know about driving large vehicles in China, but I do know that they have two licenses you can get for small vehicles. With the lower license, you can only drive a car with an automatic transmission. If you learn to drive a manual, though, you can drive both autos and manuals. Even if they don’t want to own a manual transmission car, many Chinese people put in the extra work to get the license for both, because manuals are more common there.
The driving schools want to go electric, though. There are not only cost savings, but regulatory advantages to operating an electric fleet, so they’re switching out the gas cars for EVs.
To both get the advantages of an EV while still being able to train people for driving a manual transmission, BYD did something really weird. They could have put an actual manual transmission in the vehicle, and hooked an electric motor up to that. Then, program the car to “stall” when below 500 RPM or so. That would give a real experience with a manual transmission and allow them to learn to clutch properly.
Instead, they put in a completely bogus shifter and programmed software to mimic a manual transmission. Between “shifts” the torque rises and falls, and they also somehow simulate clutching. In reality, though, it’s like sim racing, but in an actual car.
I haven’t seen the vehicle myself, so I don’t know how realistic they made things. For all I know, it could give a really realistic manual transmission experience that would translate well to driving a car with an actual manual. Or, it could be just good enough to meet the regulatory requirements for getting that upgraded driver’s license.
Either way, it seems like a lot of trouble to go through just to avoid putting a manual transmission in the car. This is particularly strange when you consider that the E3 comes in both electric and gas versions, and can come from the factory with a manual transmission. They could have saved some real money by just doing a quick-and-dirty EV conversion on the manual car, and then programming it to simulate a stall.
In other words, they put in extra effort just to make the car less realistic. How does that make any sense at all?