By on September 1, 2017

The traditional console-mounted transmission shifter is disappearing, being replaced by buttons or rotary knobs in many models as shift-by-wire becomes the industry standard. The 2018 GMC Terrain recently debuted — and received criticism for —  pushbuttons mounted low in the center stack in order to control the transmission.

Ford is no stranger to these configurations. The Blue Oval uses buttons mounted on the left side of the center stack in the Lincoln MKZ and a console-mounted rotary knob in the Ford Fusion. Now, Ford has an idea for an even more complex shifting system — and this one comes with a bit of retro flair.

A recently published patent application describes a shifter mechanism comprised of pushbuttons (which wouldn’t look out of place on an 8-track player) mounted low in the center stack. The assembly is shown on a pivoting box that would swing out towards the driver based on a set of proximity sensors.


These sensors would also be employed on each of the buttons in order to approximate the shifter position as the drivers hand approaches, as well as to make sure the driver is not resting their hand on the buttons. The application states, “It would be desirable to provide for an enhanced operation of a pushbutton shifter interface for us on a vehicle.”

While these buttons are likely just a general representation, the technology of proximity sensing seems like an unnecessarily complex solution to a problem that does not exist.

While proximity sensing may have a use in exterior door handles, it just adds something else to break if it is employed for a shifter — especially one that needs to emerge from the dash in order to be used. Ford seems to have done well with the rotary knob in the Fusion and I’m not sure why they would want to implement something that would take up more space on the center stack (and possibly cause owner dissatisfaction).

[Images: United States Patent and Trademark Office]

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20 Comments on “Push My Buttons: Ford Files Patent Application for ‘Proximity Shifting’...”

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    For any vehicle I’d buy, I would much rather this kind of engineering cost and effort be applied to something practical such as nicely padded armrests. You can either mess around patenting and designing a fiddly, unnecessary reinvention of the automatic transmission shifter that introduces more failure points, or you can put some old-tech foam and soft touch plastics on the armrests and door sills instead of the recycled milk jugs currently there.

    I know which one I’d be likely to notice and appreciate on a test drive.

    The shift panel would slide out to meet your hand? Definitely sci-fi. If the patented marketing name for this isn’t Star Truck, it should be.

  • avatar

    I am filing a patent application for a revolutionary gear shifter. It has a short lever attached to a mechanism with detents for tactile feedback, and an override button to prevent accidental engagement of positions that would lead to unfortunate results. The mechanism can be mounted near the center stack on the floor or console, on the center stack itself, or even on the steering column.

  • avatar

    This is nothing more than resume padding and career building for an engineer.

    • 0 avatar

      A little bit more. Many companies, especially automakers, file just about every patent they can. A company I used to work for did the same. They didn’t do it so they could sue the competition. They did it to have some ammunition in case they were sued. Or as a bargaining chip, in case they came up with some tech that someone else had a related patent on.

  • avatar

    Nothing new here except for the electronics. Long ago, Chrysler used push buttons to select gears in automatic transmissions. Since their products were very competitive in drag races, it was informally known as Dial a Win. If you don’t shift very often, it works fine. The same would be true of a rotary knob as long as it had strong detents and the gear selected was clearly shown.

    • 0 avatar

      Ford themselves used a push button automatic transmission gear selector on some ’57-’58 Lincolns and Mercurys, as well as the ’58 Edsel. ’56 Packards had them too – theirs was electrically controlled; Chrysler’s was mechanical.

  • avatar

    This pushbutton gear selector *would* look out of place on an 8-track player, since those didn’t have any way to rewind or fast-forward the tape, or usually any way to stop it. Often the only button was one that selected which of the four adjacent programs you wanted to listen to – you could effectively jump forward about 12 minutes. This gear selector *does* however look like it was pulled from a 1970s cassette deck though.

  • avatar

    I just can’t understand the amount of time and money being spent to create an elaborate “solution” to a problem that does not exist, when there are perfectly acceptable existing arrangements. Got R&D money to spend? Find me another 10HP, another MPG, another cupholder, anything but this wasted effort.

  • avatar

    I really don’t understand the consternation over some of the newer shifters. I really like the push buttons in my MKZ. They are highly visible, laid out in the same order as a traditional shifter and, they save a lot of space. There’s a whole big shelf under the console that is really useful because the space isn’t eaten up by a traditional shifter that, it must be remembered, migrated to the center console in the 1960s because it evokes a manul “four-on-the-floor”. It’s location was a bit of artifice unneeded except for style. It has been cluttering up center consoles for decades. Good riddance.

    • 0 avatar

      I dont either. Its just a little bit of ‘back to the future’.

      Since modern cars and particularly, EVs are controlled by ECUs then why does it matter if the car has a metal shift T-bar or some buttons?

      This 8 track play button look is fine to me, as long as they have done long term testing and it doesnt wear out like some german makes.

  • avatar

    “If it ain’t broke fix it until it is”

  • avatar

    I’ve often wondered if automakers who’ve come up with these answers searching for questions have done any types of destructive testing on these goofy things!

    How? Simple! On a closed test track, at normal highway speed, dump the entire contents of the 64-oz. container in the cupholder, of caffeinated, fizzy, HFCS-laden sugary goodness, DIRECTLY onto the center console, and see how long before the vehicle fail-safes into God-knows-what mode! Extra points for VSSes which stop communicating, and make the transmission drop into “Park” without regard for the speed!

    Pretty-colored explosions, and parts-shedding aplenty would certainly ensue, especially the dramatic lifting of the vehicle onto its FRONT wheels as the entire transmission is blown out from under it, followed by part of the exhaust, whilst inside the vehicle, airbags blow-off in synchronized cacaphony, and the rear shock towers send the entire length of cargo-bay trim on both sides breaking away as the hapless rear-end of the test vehicle crashes back down!

    All to see what would happen the morning Ms. Iam Fvcingbetterthanu-SoCcermum dumps her SpeedGREEDValeroBPBucks GrandeVentiGigrundoBladderBuster DoubleExpressoSoyVanilLatteChaiPantherpi$$ onto the articulating gear-twirler of her Jag-U-Ar F-Pace on the way to her morning CrossFit session! (Before her 10:00 CF Workout, and her 3:00 break, after which she fvcks the CF instructor, then heads home to ready dinner for her hubby and kids before her 6:15 CF session!)

    • 0 avatar

      Oh..forgot about the fact that between the CrossFit obsessions multiple times a day, Mrs. SoCcermum is, as a favor to her company, as a worker in her company’s HR department, has been granting access to sensitive company information to an intern, without permission, which will lead to her dismissal whilst on vacay two weeks hence with her “friends” (read, “CrossFit instructor”). (To keep appearances up for their three kids just starting back to school, said couple is still living in their house until the divorce is finalized.)

      Some of this is actually happening to someone I know. I leave it to the B&B to discern what is fact, and what is fiction!

      Editing time-limit got me on the first part! Seriously, I hope that there’s at least some prevention for the entire TCU going up in smoke if the console gets hit with electronics-zapping cupholder contents, despite warnings in 100-point type in the Owner’s Manual cautioning of consequences.

  • avatar
    Big Al From 'Murica

    Add 37 buttons complete with multi touch gestures to get your car in gear and nobody cares, but add that one extra pedal and the world stops.

  • avatar

    So, looking at the diagram it would pop out each time you reached for your big gulp.

  • avatar

    Toggle switches! MORE TOGGLE SWITCHES!

    We need more interiors that resemble a 1960s Thunderbird.

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