Toyota Patents Manual ‘Box With 1960s Saab Technology

Some manufacturers have ditched manual transmissions altogether but Toyota continues to offer a number of stick shifts and has just made a patent application that could ensure they stick around for even longer.

Initially reported by Roadshow, the patent is dubbed ‘Controller For Vehicle and Control Method For Vehicle’. While that name means absolutely nothing, the patented technology consists of an electronic device that allows a manual transmission to automatically shift into neutral when the vehicle is coasting downhill.

Beyond helping to save fuel when travelling downhill, the system’s ability to automatically shift into neutral could allow the Japanese automaker to implement a start-stop system like it offers with automatic-equipped vehicles. Additionally, the car could even shift into neutral during an emergency stop.

Interestingly, Road & Track has discovered that Toyota’s technology shares many similarities to the freewheel mechanism introduced by the Saab 93 in 1965.

Saabs of the time used two-stroke engines which mixed engine oil with fuel to lubricate the powertrain. However, if the accelerator wasn’t depressed, when coasting downhill for example, the engine could be starved of lubrication.

Saab’s solution? A system that enabled the wheels to spin faster than the engine in certain scenarios, allowing a car to coast downhill with minimal fuel use.

Toyota hasn’t confirmed if or when it intends on introducing the technology and while it may have been inspired by Saab’s freewheel mechanism, it has the potential to be an even greater fuel saver and could help save the manual gearbox.


  • Dustin

    Coasting in gear cuts the fuel injectors, so MPG = infinite. Why would you want to coast in neutral, where the fuel injectors need to stay on to keep the engine turning?

    • Xander Crews

      Porsche and BMW do it with their automatics. Someone at tbose companies evaluated the benefit and found something in this tech. Probably same happened at Toyota.

    • eb110americana

      While that seems intuitive, perhaps the internal engine friction on lesser declines creates more resistance than simply idling the engine. So if you are cruising down in top gear, your speed will slow substantially enough to require some throttle input. Whereas in neutral, some fuel is used to idle the engine, but the car maintains its speed, so net, fuel is conserved. They must have done the calculations already, otherwise why invest in a dead end?

      I still like the idea that after you climb up a grade, as you are descending the engine becomes an air pump, which helps to cool it. Maybe that is the issue. Maybe thermal shock is causing premature wear?

  • Jp

    Ok… So as far as I know. since fuel injection exists, if you go downhill with a gear engaged, you don’t use any fuel as gravity drives the wheels which in turn drive the engine… So I don’t get it. Anyone to help understand what’s going on here?

    • Randy Terpstra

      Nor is there ‘engine braking’, which would come in handy, during emergency situations. I gotten up to speeds of 145 km/h (90 mph), while coasting in neutral through the mountains of British Columbia.

  • Akira

    One of the advantages of manual is engine braking… So Toyota removes it. Great job.

    • Spinnetti

      Modern braking systems are adequate. No need for engine braking which just increases drag without benefit. I “manually” put my cars in neutral for any kind of downhill that will net me some benefit.

  • LeStori

    Stop-start on is essentially an annoyance. Fuel savings , if any are minor in anything other than mild weather. Much less than turning your air conditioning off. And I am definitely not turning the air conditioning off.

    In heavy traffic situations where you need to move into oncoming traffic, any delay in moving puts you at risk. Stop-Start does that. It adds that extra time and the engine may or may not run as well as it was before it was shut down for a few seconds after start up. I normally turn it off. Safety comes first.

    • Vassilis

      Yeah, not quite. In a 25 km route with traffic lights and moderate traffic I save about half a litre with stop-start. That’s a lot. Also, the engine turns back on instantaneously so there’s hardly any delay. If it turns off and need it back on almost straight away it does indeed feel laggy for a second but you can drive around that because you can expect it. You just keep the clutch in. Maybe the experience differs from car to car and depends on how new the car is but I’ve found it to be positive overall.

  • psiqtas

    Stupid! Why? Coasting in neutral without wheel powered could make you trouble when the road surface is slippery without engine braking, especially downhill or in the mountains… boy, they even teach us on driving-school not to coast in neutral (manual tranny)

  • dolsh

    It makes no sense to invest in the manual transmission. If they need start-stop to increase fleet mileage, just move to an auto. This isn’t going to make the manual cheaper. I don’t get it.

  • Greg Gregorich

    it was years back on heavy trucks nothing new

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