Editorial: You're The Reason Auto Makers Don't Offer Manual Transmissions

Derek Kreindler
by Derek Kreindler
editorial youre the reason auto makers dont offer manual transmissions

One of the essential questions that many automotive writers fail to examine is “what is the nature of an automaker”? All too often, they lose sight of the fact that OEMs are in the business of selling cars, not manufacturing widgets for people who like cars.

This kind of mindset is what leads to the exchange outlined in Automobile Magazine, where one writer discusses the lack of a manual transmission in the 2016 Audi R8.

“You have to look at lap times,” he said at the 2015 Geneva auto show, adding that the take rate for manual transmission-equipped Audi R8s, at least in Europe, was almost nil. When pressed on the issue, Hollerweger remained firm. There is simply is no way for a stick-shift to match the performance of the R8’s dual-clutch transmission and few buyers wanted one, so Hollerweger believes there’s no point in offering a manual on the new car.

Of course, we’d beg to differ and we were a bit taken aback by his assertion that a manual-equipped car is not the more engaging experience for the driver.”

Emphasis added by yours truly. But that assertion alone highlights what is either a total lack of understanding regarding the auto industry, or willful blindness. The R8 is a halo car for Audi, and you can bet that they spent lots of time and money doing market research, analyzing sales data and talking to current and prospective customers about what they want in a car.

A manual is not something they want. It is what you want, and what I want, but the people signing the $200,000 checks have little to no interest in the purity and tactile supremacy of a clutch pedal and a gated manual shifter. Therefore, Audi has decided not to offer one, sparing them tens of millions in costs, regulatory headaches, fewer combinations that complicate the assembly process and three-pedal versions that sit on dealer lots collecting dust. It’s not a difficult decision to understand, but our ego is designed to protect us from thinking that we are somehow less important to Audi than the (very wealthy) customers who are supporting the brand by actually purchasing their products.

And yet, this writer begs to differ. On what grounds? Because it’s cool? Because it’s a shame to see the manual die out? Because you think they should. Sorry, but in the world of ROI and P&L statements (which make a car company stay in business), those reasons are less than worthless. If you don’t live and die by that line of thinking, then you’re Lotus, barely existing despite doing everything right in the eyes of the enthusiast.

The entitlement that comes with thinking that a particular car or variant thereof should simply exist for the sake of it is something I can’t wrap my head around. Whether a car that you’ll never ever buy has two pedals or three, a stick shift or paddles has literally zero impact on your daily life. There’s a good chance that you will never even see a 2016 Audi R8 on the road, depending on what part of the country you live in. And yet every time a new car is released without a manual, we have people rending their garments over this matter.

There is literally only one way to ensure the continued existence of the manual transmission. You have to buy new cars with manual transmissions. Car companies, like people, respond to incentives. Increased sales of manual transmissions in new vehicles (not used) is an incentive for them to offer more. Whining about their demise is not. We are not entitled to anything in this world, let alone an unpopular, costly (for the car maker) option that by all rights should have disappeared long ago.

So why not reward the people who are still doing God’s work and offering you three pedals and a real stick shift (and I really do mean that, because all of the product planners I know do their best to make the case to management for offering a manual, even if it means sticking their neck out)? Bark did. Jack did. I did. Do your part. Vote with your wallet. Here’s a list of cars that offer one, and there is still a manual option to fit every conceivable need. If everyone that complained about a lack of manuals actually bought a new car with a manual, we’d be like Europe. If you have no intention of buying a new car with a manual transmission, then you have lost your right to complain.

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8 of 323 comments
  • Sportyaccordy Sportyaccordy on Apr 10, 2015

    I read this story every couple of months. It's just so perfect. Also LOLing at the purported unreliability of automatics. A modern automatic is pretty damn robust, and will last longer than, while costing not much more to replace than a clutch. Rebuilt autos are pretty cheap and autos in general are pretty durable.

    • See 3 previous
    • NMGOM NMGOM on Apr 22, 2015

      JD-Shifty - - - If I drive a maroon 1941 Chevy Cabriolet (one of the most beautiful cars ever made, IMO), that has over 200K miles on it, with all major components replaced, will someone criticize me for driving an "unreliable car" based on their ignorance; or will someone congratulate me for driving this priceless "classic" based on their knowledge? ===================

  • Kurkosdr Kurkosdr on Apr 19, 2015

    Manuals suck, there I said it. On one hand, you have a system that does every shift perfectly, and on the other hand you have "pro-drivers" who claim they do every shift perfectly with their manual. It's like photographers who miss the view-finder (which has been replaced with the superior LCD, which actually shows what the camera's sensor sees, not what your eyes see)

    • See 1 previous
    • Joeaverage Joeaverage on Apr 21, 2015

      @NMGOM I have zero interest in owning an automatic though one of my recent used car purchases has an automatic. I own four other manual transmission vehicles. The automatics are finally getting close to shifting when I think they need to. Nothing more irritating than an automatic with indecision or riding with someone who thinks they can drive a manual but threatens to tear the driveshaft out with every shift. ;) I still have no interest in buying an automatic transmission vehicle.

  • Art Vandelay Best? PCH from Ventura to somewhere near Lompoc. Most Famous? Route Irish
  • GT Ross The black wheel fad cannot die soon enough for me.
  • Brett Woods My 4-Runner had a manual with the 4-cylinder. It was acceptable but not really fun. I have thought before that auto with a six cylinder would have been smoother, more comfortable, and need less maintenance. Ditto my 4 banger manual Japanese pick-up. Nowhere near as nice as a GM with auto and six cylinders that I tried a bit later. Drove with a U.S. buddy who got one of the first C8s. He said he didn't even consider a manual. There was an article about how fewer than ten percent of buyers optioned a manual in the U.S. when they were available. Visited my English cousin who lived in a hilly suburb and she had a manual Range Rover and said she never even considered an automatic. That's culture for you.  Miata, Boxster, Mustang, Corvette and Camaro; I only want manual but I can see both sides of the argument for a Mustang, Camaro or Challenger. Once you get past a certain size and weight, cruising with automatic is a better dynamic. A dual clutch automatic is smoother, faster, probably more reliable, and still allows you to select and hold a gear. When you get these vehicles with a high performance envelope, dual-clutch automatic is what brings home the numbers. 
  • ToolGuy 2019 had better comments than 2023 😉
  • Inside Looking Out In June 1973, Leonid Brezhnev arrived in Washington for his second summit meeting with President Richard Nixon. Knowing of the Soviet leader’s fondness for luxury automobiles, Nixon gave him a shiny Lincoln Continental. Brezhnev was delighted with the present and insisted on taking a spin around Camp David, speeding through turns while the president nervously asked him to slow down. https://academic.oup.com/dh/article-abstract/42/4/548/5063004