The Smoothest Ride of All

Doron Amiran, CCP  |  Feb. 24, 2016

Driving a car is useful and often necessary in our society.
But we also want the driving experience to be fun. Carmakers have long sought to
maximize both the efficiency and fun of their cars by devising ever-fancier
ways of shifting from one gear to the next. Manual transmissions have given way
to automatics in the decades since their introduction after WWII, and in recent
years manufacturers have turned to continually variable transmissions in an
effort to deliver the smoothest and most efficient ride possible.

The average modern car transmission has over 900 parts, and
that does not even include the nuts and bolts that hold it all together. Why are
we carrying all these torque converters, planetary gear sets, and hydraulic
controls under the hood, with their attendant fluids, clutch plates and
o-rings? What is the purpose of such complexity?  

The simple answer is that internal combustion engines only
generate usable torque and power in a narrow band of engine speeds. The transmission
helps keep the engine within its usable power-band. Not only that, but without
a transmission a combustion engine could be severely damaged – or even blow up –
when it crosses a certain rpm, or redline. That’s one of the dirty little
secrets of internal combustion: that it really and truly can catch your car on
fire. It is, after all, combustion. The solution has always been gears, and
gears require a transmission.

Not so, however, for electric cars. Electric motors deliver
100% of their torque at very low speeds, and continue to provide plenty of
torque as power output increases at higher speeds. What this means is that you
accelerate from a dead stop very quickly, and never need to shift as you reach
highway speeds. It really is a radical feeling to step on the accelerator
(that’s right, it’s not a gas pedal anymore), and feel the car zip smoothly
from 0-60, and beyond.

The advantages to the driver are tangible and immediate. Not
only have you done away with over 900 parts that can no longer break or snap or
leak, you have done away with the need to shift. Only a drive in an electric
car will impress upon you the glorious feeling of the electric drive. No more
shifting, no more lurching, no more clunking. All of that, along with the
transmission fluid, is replaced by the blissful feeling of the road whizzing by
in what truly is the smoothest ride of all.

Doron Amiran is the Electric Vehicle Program Implementation Manager for the Center for Climate Protection.

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