Electric cars are generally simpler to drive than those with combustion engines, and a key element is the gearbox.
Engineers have been able to change how a car drives when powered by electricity, because of how an electric motor works.
As with a conventional automatic transmission, there's no need to change gears in an electric car, making the driving process far less complicated.
We look at what’s going on between the electric motor and wheels, and how this changes the driving process.
In this article
Do electric cars have gears?
Most electric cars have a single gear.
Just about all vehicles have gears of some sort, as it’s far more efficient and controllable than a direct drive from the engine or motor.
Vehicles with internal combustion engines typically come with five or six forward gears, and automatic transmissions usually feature six, seven, or eight forward gears.
Broadly speaking, the greater the number of gears, the easier it is to keep an engine in its optimum power band, improving responsiveness and efficiency.
The key difference with electric motors compared to internal combustion engines is that a motor has all its power and torque available from one rpm. This, combined with the fact they spin up to around 20,000 rpm, means they are far more flexible than an engine.
With greater responsiveness and instant power, the need to keep an electric motor in a tight power band simply doesn’t exist. That’s why most electric vehicles (EVs) have a single gear.
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Do any electric cars have more than one gear?
There are a handful of electric models arriving with more than one gear, the most notable being Porsche’s Taycan. This has a two-speed transmission, though there is still nothing required from the driver other than picking which direction they want to travel in.
The main benefit of this is improved efficiency at higher speeds, and Porsche reckons that its drivers will spend enough time at these levels to warrant the use of a two-speed gearbox.
Other models can behave as though they have more than one gear. If there’s a motor on each axle, they can be set up to have different ratios, with one used for slower speeds and the other at a higher pace.
Otherwise, most electric cars will rely on software to balance throttle sensitivity and response from the electric motor.
Discover more about EVs in our guide to electric and hybrid cars.
Are electric cars automatic?
Because electric cars use a single gear, there is no need to change gear either manually or with an automatic transmission. They are a simplified automatic.
The same gear works in reverse too, making it different from a conventional automatic gearbox. Instead, drivers select forward, reverse, or neutral/park and there’s nothing else required.
Find out more about the differences between automatic and manual cars.
Can you get a manual electric car?
Because there's usually a single gear, there are no manual electric cars available - and there aren’t likely to be any.
The simpler nature of an electric car’s transmission means it’s not required, and would make the whole operation less efficient.
Even plug-in hybrid models - which use an electric motor and a petrol or diesel engine - use conventional automatic gearboxes with multiple ratios for when the engine is running.
That said, Toyota has submitted a patent for a “simulated manual gearbox” for electric cars. This is designed to imitate the feel of a manual gearbox for those that enjoy the act of driving - there will be no performance benefit.
Using a gear stick and clutch pedal that don’t physically connect to the powertrain, drivers will be able to “manually” drive their electric car, with software controlling the power and torque available in any given “ratio”. This is the only expected outcome for a manual electric car.
The benefits of electric cars being automatic
In addition to an easier driving experience, there are lots of benefits to EVs being electric, including:
- There are fewer parts to fail or to maintain. There’s no clutch to replace, and fewer fluids, casings, and cogs to wear out.
- A single-speed gearbox is also stronger than traditional gearboxes. With far greater levels of torque from an electric motor than an engine, a standard gearbox would likely break when trying to transfer power to the wheels.
- Brake energy recuperation is simpler, since the motor’s current is inverted, charging the battery when slowing down by using the car’s rolling motion.
- With multiple gears to select from, brake energy recuperation would be less linear, with pauses or steps in braking strength reducing safety and refinement.
Learn more about electric car maintenance and repair.
Published: 6 May 2022 | Updated: 6 May 2022 | Author: The AA