With the UK planning to ban new fossil fuel vehicles from 2030, electric cars are booming in popularity. As a result, many learners come to us with questions about the future of driving and something we’re often asked is: Do electric cars have gearboxes?
And it’s a good question! At the end of 2020, there were 373,600 plug-in vehicles on the UK roads with around 50% of those being all-electric. So petrol and diesel engines will eventually be left in the past with penny-farthings and horse-drawn carriages. Also, one of the main things to consider when learning to drive is whether to get an automatic or manual licence.
So today we’ll answer some of the questions surrounding EVs (electric vehicles) and gearboxes…
Do electric cars have gears?
The short answer — no! The vast majority of electric cars have no gears and are single-speed transmission. Instead, they have 3 modes — Drive (to go forwards), Reverse (to go backwards), and Neutral (to go nowhere).
However, that’s not to say that all EVs are the same. Some have Eco and Sport modes, but they change settings such as throttle sensitivity, rather than transmission.
Some manufacturers have developed electric vehicles with gears, which we will look at in a moment. But, as a general rule, EVs don’t have gearboxes.
Why don’t electric cars need gears?
Without getting too technical, it’s because electric motors produce more RPM (revolutions per minute) and are more power-efficient.
Most EVs can generate 20,000 RPM, compared to 6,000 from traditional, internal combustion engines. Traditional engines only operate efficiently within a specific band of RPM per gear, so gears must be gradually shifted up as the vehicle picks up pace. If you use the wrong gear for the wrong speed, the engine will waste a lot of fuel, be excessively noisy, and even cause internal damage.
Electric motors don’t have this problem — they can produce 100% of their power from the word ‘go’ (a bit like a go-kart, actually). Because of this, electric vehicles accelerate from 0-60mph much easier and smoother than an internal combustion engine.
Bonus points for EVs here. The fact they don’t require gears means they’re cheaper and easier to maintain than a petrol/diesel vehicle. So, switching to electric is a win-win situation for most people.
Is it possible to have a manual electric vehicle?
Some people love driving manual cars. They want to feel and control the output of power from their vehicle — so will they need to wave goodbye to the gearbox forever?
Well, it’s not quite as simple as “electric cars will never have manual transmission and that’s that”.
For example, Ford created the Mustang Lithium, an all-electric prototype vehicle with (wait for this, gear-heads) a six-speed gearbox. In motorsports, most Formula E cars (like Formula 1 but all-electric) have 5-speed gearboxes. And there’s the Porsche Taycan, which features a not-so-whopping 2-speed automatic transmission.
So it’s not impossible to have an all-electric car with gears and/or manual transmission, it’s just rare. We’ll have to wait and see if that remains the case!
Should you learn to drive in a manual car?
Now that we know the vast majority of electric cars are automatic, you might be wondering if it’s worth learning to drive in a manual vehicle.
Whether you do or not depends on when you plan to get an electric vehicle.
Want to get ahead of the curve? Fossil fuel vehicles will be phased out from 2030, so many drivers are switching to all-electric now. If you’re thinking along similar lines, then you’d probably be best learning in an automatic.
If you love manual gearboxes but want an electric car, it could be worth passing in a manual and waiting to see if EVs with gearboxes become more common. That way you always have the option in the future!
Many people think the demand for manual gearboxes will follow us into the all-electric era of driving. The Mustang Lithium proved it’s possible (even though it’s only a prototype), so we can probably expect to see more electric cars with gearboxes soon.
Not ready to buy an electric vehicle just yet? It might be worth getting a manual licence so you can drive any car until you’re ready to switch to all-electric.
Still unsure about which transmission is best for you? We’ve summed up the pros and cons of manual vs automatic cars to help you decide!