Some readers, especially those who learnt to drive over the last decade or so in India, perhaps two or more in the west, might wonder if the title of this article is a bit redundant. Isn’t manual transmission already dead? Well, for all practical purposes, yes, as its share of new vehicles is already miniscule.
“Cars.com data shows that the decline has been happening much longer than I expected—with 1980 being the manual transmission’s most recent peak production year, making up 34.6% of U.S. sales. Decades later in 2010, that number fell all the way down to 3.4%, dropping even further to 1.5% in 2020.”
But for those of us who enjoy the feel of manually shifting gears, this article is a bit of an ode to the dying technology, as the author sums up – all good things must come to an end. But more pertinently, the article talks about the factors that accelerated the adoption of automatic transmission – better performance and better efficiency.
While most enthusiasts know 0 to 60 times don’t tell the complete story, automakers haven’t received the memo. They’ll do anything to shrink that number as much as possible. Just think of Tesla’s Roadster, which was rumored to have cold gas thrusters—a.k.a. rockets—to propel it to 60 mph in under two seconds. That went well.
But manual transmissions lose in that race: They just take too long to shift. Regardless of how fast you can row through the gears yourself, you’ll always be trampled by a modern automatic. Case in point: Porsche’s class-leading PDK automatic gearbox can change gears in just eight milliseconds. This double-clutch technology is trickling down to more consumer-level cars, allowing plebians like myself to enjoy near-instant gear changes.
It’s a common argument that manual transmission vehicles are more efficient than their automatic counterparts. While that may have been true in 1980, things are a bit different nowadays. According to the EPA, the number of gears available in an automatic transmission surpassed that of the manual in 2012. You’ve likely seen vehicles nowadays with 7-, 8-, 9-, or even 10-speed transmissions. The reason? More gears equals better fuel economy. Higher gears require fewer revs on the highway, leading to improved gas mileage.
Crossing that line meant manufacturers didn’t need to rely on stick-shift vehicles to comply with Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE). These standards, mandated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, regulate how far vehicles must travel on a single gallon of fuel. This rapid increase in performance and efficiency made the manual transmission less of a necessity for OEMs, and more of a personal preference for enthusiasts like myself.”
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