BMW Tech Boss Isn't Into Fake Gearboxes In EVs

Car enthusiasts have long griped that electric cars—silent, relatively similar to one another and, ultimately, soulless—kill all the fun parts of driving. They have a point: EVs typically have one gear, so there’s no opportunity to shift. Flooring it, even in a face-meltingly quick EV, doesn’t produce the kind of visceral vibrations and rumbles one gets from, say, a beefy V8. 

In response, some carmakers are copying the most entertaining elements of conventional cars and pasting them into their latest electric models. But BMW says it isn’t all that interested in putting artificial transmissions or phony engine growls in its future EVs.

At a recent roundtable with journalists, we asked Frank Weber, BMW’s CTO, whether his engineers are working on simulated gearboxes for electric cars. Hyundai, Toyota and others are experimenting with this kind of mimicry—something that isn’t strictly necessary in an EV but could help jazz up the driving experience. 

Weber laughed off the idea: “Yeah, we can maybe emulate a stick also, a digital stick,” he joked. BMW’s tech boss added that the company has bigger fish to fry when it comes to the driving experience in its next-generation EVs. BMW wants to harness the advantages of electric technology by developing systems that control a vehicle’s wheels, motors and chassis all at once, he said. That’s the priority.

“To emulate that you have fixed gears and you shift them probably we can do in the afternoon after we’re done with the other things,” he said. “You will be surprised how different vehicles drive when you see the next generation.”

Weber jokes, but other car companies are dead serious about consoling die-hard car enthusiasts through the extinction of their beloved gas engines. Toyota developed a stick shift for EVs that you can actually stall out. Drivers of Hyundai’s Ioniq 5 N can experience the jolting feeling of gear shifts and even select from a menu of engine grumbles to wake the neighbors with. Dodge, the brand synonymous with thundering V8 muscle cars, put a transmission and an absurdly loud “exhaust” in a recent electric concept car. 

Just because something isn’t a priority, that doesn’t mean it’ll never happen. The head of BMW’s high-performance M division told WhichCar earlier this year that his team is looking into artificial shifting, vibrations, and acoustic cues to help drivers of future M-branded EVs better judge their speed on the racetrack. 

As for those external speakers that some competitors are employing to blast fake engine roars to the outside world? That’s off the table, Weber said, after recounting an experience driving a noisy electric Fiat: “Yeah, you can do this. I think it would not be in line with what BMW is known for.” What’s German for “tacky?”

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