HomeCar CultureWill electric powertrains save the manual gearbox?

Will electric powertrains save the manual gearbox?


‘Lithium’ draws power from electrical cord

Perhaps the most shocking image we carried away from the 2019 SEMA Show was a 2019 Ford Mustang tethered to an electric-vehicle charging outlet. The Mustang’s hood was open, but instead of an EcoBoosted 4-cylinder or 5.0-liter Coyote V8 or 760-horsepower supercharged Shelby GT500 engine, there was a high-voltage EVDrive electrical system from automotive supplier Webasto. 

Technically, the system of electric motors and batteries supplied 800 volts and 75 kilowatt hours of energy. To put those numbers in more commonly understood terms: 900 horsepower and — ta-da! — 1,000, you read that correctly, one-freaking-thousand pound-feet of instantly available, no spinning up to reach, maximum torque.

As if all of that wasn’t enough of a shock, peeking inside the car’s cabin, there was a 6-speed manual shifter. Believe it or not, several electric-powered cars at the recent SEMA Show were equipped with manual rather than automatic transmissions.

Could it be that it will be the conversion to electric power that saves the manual transmission so loved and enjoyed by driving enthusiasts?

Electa-mode ’62 Chevy pickup

Delve deeper into the Las Vegas Convention Center’s Central Hall and you could see the 1962 Chevrolet E-10, a vintage C-10 pickup truck that Chevrolet engineers converted to electric power with the prototype for a plug-and-play, or “connect-and-cruise” is what Chevy likely will call an eCrate engine-to-motor program that could debut at the 2020 SEMA Show.

Also consider Don Garlits’ Swamp Rat 38, the record-setting electric-powered slingshot-style dragster, and other electric-powered vehicles, and out in the parking lot in front of the convention center, a battery-propelled 11,000-pound Bigfoot monster truck, now with part of its bodywork cut away to showcase its electronic powertrain.

Battery-powered Bigfoot monster truck

Taking it all in were Eric Hutchinson, founder of Electric GT, and his chief engineer Brock Winberg.

In 2014, Hutchinson bought a fire-damaged 1978 Ferrari 308 GTS from a wrecking yard in San Diego and did an electra-mod restoration.

After three years of doing electric conversions as a hobby, Hutchinson was approached by Volkswagen’s Innovation and Engineering Center in Silicon Valley to help celebrate the R&D center’s 20th anniversary by electrifying an 11-window VW van to create the Volkswagen Type 20 Microbus.

ElectricGT’s modular electric motor and be built to provide various amounts of power | Electric GT photo

Electric GT has developed a modular electric crate motor, put it into several vehicles and is installing it in a classic Toyota FJ, a Ford Mustang and a Pontiac Firebird as proof of technology for an electric powertrain that might be installed in any vintage vehicle, and already is taking “pre-orders” for the system.

The idea is plug-and-play, with modules added to achieve a variety of power levels for an installation that couples with whatever transmission already is in the vehicle. 

Larry Edsall
Larry Edsall
A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.


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