Ford Files Patent For Steering Wheel-Mounted Automatic Transmission Controls

Ford steering shifter patent

Ford, apparently not satisfied with having three different types of automatic shift controls in vehicles across its product range, may be getting set to add a fourth, according to a patent application that has come to light.

This patent details automatic transmission gear range selectors mounted on the steering wheel, an arrangement that would be the fourth distinct type of automatic gear selection system in Ford’s lineup. The first is the proven console-mounted shift lever found in small cars like the 2017 Ford Focus and Fiesta, and the 2017 Ford F-150 pickup; number two is the push-button arrangement used in recent Lincoln designs; and third is the rotary dial in the latest Fusion sedan.

What the world didn’t need was yet another way to complicate the use of a type of transmission originally conceived to make driving less complicated, especially in light Chrysler’s problems with unconventional auto shift lever designs.

Looking at the above drawing, which was included in the patent application, Ford is proposing a set of four buttons: two for selecting drive/reverse/neutral/park for fully automatic operation, and two others for the more common task of manual gear selection. See how the left-hand range selector control is labelled N-P-R? According to the description, making the car go forward is easy: step on the brake, press the button marked D (dubbed “first switch” in the text of the application); press that button again to activate manual mode. That we can wrap our heads around easily enough, but check out all the different ways that other button (second switch) works:

-shift into a park mode in response to a single user input at the steering wheel second switch while the transmission is in a drive mode and the vehicle is not rolling.

-shift into a reverse mode in response to a double user input at the steering wheel second switch while the transmission is in a drive mode and the vehicle is not rolling.

-shift into a reverse mode in response to the steering wheel second switch being held for longer than a time threshold while the transmission is in a drive mode and the vehicle is not rolling.

-shift into a reverse mode in response to an input at the steering wheel second switch while the transmission is in a park mode and a brake is applied.

-shift into a neutral mode in response to an input at the steering wheel second switch while the transmission is in the drive mode and the vehicle is rolling without application of a brake.

There are three different commands for shifting into reverse, depending on what the transmission is doing at the time the driver decides it’s time to back up.

But the bigger question to us is this: How do you keep track of those buttons if you need to switch directions while turning and the steering wheel isn’t in the straight-ahead position?

If you’ll permit us to editorialize, we really hope this design never makes it into production.

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Chris Chase

Chris Chase

As a child, Chris spent much of his time playing with toy cars in his parents’ basement; when his mother would tell him to go play outside, he made car sounds while riding his bicycle or dug roads for his toys in the flower garden. Now he gets to indulge his obsession playing with real cars that make their own cool noises, and gets paid for it.