By on July 6, 2015


New BMW M boss Frank van Meel says buyers may still have a choice between two transmissions, just between two types of automatics.

Talking to Autocar, van Meel said: “From a technical standpoint, the future doesn’t look bright for manual gearboxes.”

So goes another nail into the coffin.

Van Meel makes the same argument engineers have been making for a decade or more.

“The DCT and auto ’boxes are faster and they have better fuel consumption,” he said.

Van Meel doesn’t directly kill the manual, however. He told Autocar BMW would still offer manual versions if buyers demanded it. The last generation M3’s manual take rate was around 45 percent. We’ve reached out to BMW to see how many new M car buyers opt to row their own.

As an interesting side note, the online configurator for BMW automatically selects the dual-clutch automatic transmission, a $2,900 option, for M cars with an available manual. Only the X6 M and X5 M do not have an available manual transmission in the U.S.

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66 Comments on “Future BMW M Cars May Not Have Manuals...”

  • avatar

    This is not the end of BMW as we know it. BMW died with the 1996 model year when limited slip diffs disappeared in all non-M cars.

  • avatar

    Maybe I’m getting old and cranky, but I’m getting increasingly frustrated by the inability of a manual car (without abuse) to execute a shift without jerking driver and passengers. In the old days automatics were often jerky too, particularly on downshifts under power. Now they are so smooth that the head bob on even a well-executed manual shift seems unnecessary.

    They’re super fun in a sporting situation, but increasingly hard to justify (not least because in modern American driving safe “sporting situations” have become very rare).

    • 0 avatar

      Depends on the car, but I’m finding that a well executed automatic – particularly one with paddle shifting – doesn’t give much up to a manual in larger, more powerful cars. I drove the last-gen 5 and 3-series, and I actually preferred the automatic, at least in the 5.

      But with smaller cars there’s a huge difference, particularly if they’re naturally aspirated. Newer turbos, though, work very well with an automatic.

    • 0 avatar

      I can shift a manual quite smoothly, and I really don’t give a damn if the slushboxes–regular or dual clutch–are faster. Shifting my own gears is part of the joy of driving for me, and I hope I don’t ever have to give it up.

      I think the emphasis on fractions of a second in acceleration times is way overblown, and probably not even noticeable to most of us. The joy of a manual shift well-executed is.

      Other pluses for manuals: cheaper to maintain, and less likely to get stolen.

      • 0 avatar

        No matter how smoothly you shift, there’s still an interruption in power, and the head bob that accompanies it.

      • 0 avatar

        David – – –

        I agree. Shifting smoothly and rapidly by virtual constant rev-matched double-clutching can provide a ride so fluid and gentle that only a CVT could beat it. In fact, if it were possible, I would challenge any automatic aficionado responding on this site to a duel —-
        —- Place an accelerometer in your car with an automatic transmission, and see what your score is compared to the reading from same device that measured my shifting an old Dodge Ram pickup truck (of all things)! I can guarantee that you will lose, especially as you try to imitate ALL the upshifting and downshifting modes I would execute over a hilly, curvy course, requiring mandatory lower gear selections from speed, while going down a moderately steep grade.

        How did I learn to do this with an MT car 50-odd years ago? – – –
        1) My driving instructor would sit with an empty coke bottle upright on the floor by his feet, and torture his students by routes similar to that described above. You knock the bottle over, you forfeit your turn at driving.
        2) Rev-matched, double-clutch, down-shifting was part of everyone’s training where I came from in the 1950’s.
        3) A college professor friend was a Brit who told us special awareness and techniques for chauffeured driving with MT’s so that the passenger wouldn’t feel anything.
        4) Practice, practice, practice. Like playing the violin, except this is road ballet.

        So, Frank Van Meel thinks the new automatics and automated transmissions are faster and more fuel efficient, does he? Well, how often do we need to listen to something that is irrelevant for why people get MT’s in the first place? Especially when his quoted differences are insignificant….

        People get MT’s because:
        1) The are more robust, durable, and longer-lasting;
        2) They are less expensive to buy;
        3) They provide superior driver involvement;
        4) They allow Owner-doable oil change, which is also less frequent and less expensive;
        5) They require no separate cooling system with its own radiator;
        6) Their Wear item = easily replaceable clutch (not the whole tranny!);
        7) They show Superior traction in slippery snow, by “feathering” the clutch;
        8) They give us almost air-tight theft protection;
        9) They discourage Distracted Driving because it’s hard to fiddle with gadgets >> Safer.

        His comment is typical of German thinking: “There, there, we know better what is best for you.” Take a look at how long it took BMW to get serious about a decent cup holder that Americans consider essential. Or take a look at the latest “Roundel” (July issue) magazine, in the Farnsworth article on the new 7-Series, — whose display screen becomes invisible(!) if the driver wears sunglasses! The idiot German comment: “Who wears sunglasses when they are driving?” (!) Right.

        “Future BMW M Cars May Not Have Manuals”?
        Well, future purchases here may not greatly include M-cars. They can watch sales go to Mustang’s, Camaro’s, and Challenger’s instead.


        • 0 avatar

          I agree with everything you’ve stated with one exception, BMW uses “variable” lock differentials on every M car post E36. I am 100% certain it achieves 100% lock because I’ve personally tested it (E46). :-) How it performs on the track, its reliability, or its durability? I could not answer these questions having zero first hand experience. I can only attest to my E36 M3 diff, the abuse it withstood, yet achieved 100% lock at 287k miles.

          Every automatic car I’ve ever owned, or my immediate family has ever owned, has had a common catastrophic failure. The transmission has been the culprit in each and every case. I don’t believe these mass produced units can take the type of punishment spirited drivers can dish. JMO, no scientific data here.

          I have several friends who are car enthusiasts, who own automatics, who claim to drive “hard” but I’ve noticed that they have adapted their driving style to accomodate upshifts, that is, they nurse the transmission during gear changes. IMHO this completely defeats the purpose! If you are going to be nursing the transmission then don’t be concerned with tunes, performance modifications or things of this nature. In fact, forget about horsepower and torque figures entirely.

          Manual gearboxes for life.

  • avatar

    One enthusiast friend of mine bought a BMW with an automatic. He was the type who absolutely insisted on manuals, and this was the first automatic he’d ever owned. When I expressed my belief that one day automatics would do everything a manual does just as well or better, his response was “That day is already here.” Of all the people I know, he’d be the last I expected to embrace automatics.

    Yes, the final nails are being driven into the manual’s coffin.

    • 0 avatar

      There used to be many arguments for the manual transmission. They were more reliable, fuel efficient, had better performance and they were cheaper. Today it’s not the case anymore. Even conventional automatics can shift quickly, and have better fuel economy. It’s easier to add gears with planetary gearsets. Mercedes latest 9-speed has less clutches and control solenoids than the outgoing 7-speed. Reliability is there as long as the fluid gets serviced regularly. Really, the reason for the manual is becoming, just the driving experience.

      • 0 avatar
        heavy handle

        There used to be two arguments for the manual transmission: #1 they were cheaper, and #2 they were more fun.

        The first isn’t often true anymore. Manuals can be cheaper within a single model, but you can probably find a cheaper automatic if you aren’t too particular about models.

        That leaves #2. Not many of us left, most people consider driving to be no more than an annoyance.

        BTW, my Mom drove manual into her 80s. I find it funny when “car guys” don’t know how to use a clutch. Mind you, she was probably faster.

        • 0 avatar

          Are you saying before the advent of modern 6+ speed computer controlled transmissions with lock up torque converters you wouldn’t get better fuel economy, performance, and reliability out of a manual? I would very much disagree with that. Today, is a different story.

          • 0 avatar

            Very much depended on gearing and driving style, but back in the 3- and 4-speed auto days more manuals than autos returned better performance and economy numbers.

            Today, except in cars with weak enough engines that the torque converter has to stay unlocked a significant portion of the time, the auto will win on economy every time because of taller top gears and the ability to upshift immediately. In most cases it will also win on performance because of shorter low gears and faster shifts.

          • 0 avatar
            heavy handle


            I figure that fuel economy and reliability fall under the “cheaper” category.

    • 0 avatar

      Until an automatic can read my mind, it will never be as good as a manual. BMWs 8spd is as good as automatics get these days, but it can still only ever be reactive, and to a very limited number of inputs at that.

      • 0 avatar

        If you just want to select gears based on your own criteria, or make a selection to anticipate a condition the computer can’t, you can do that with any decent modern automatic. The difference is really involvement more than control.

        • 0 avatar

          With the exception of higher-end and higher priced vehicles (BMW, Porsche, etc), much of the control is still limited and doesn’t always react and shift as anticipated in many of those modern semi-autos.

      • 0 avatar

        The programming on either Bentleys or Rolls Royces use GPS to predict the upcoming road and thus what gear you’ll need.

        Also, there’s nothing stopping an automatic from having a proper manual mode that allows you to shift your own to your heart’s content.

    • 0 avatar

      I drove manuals for 40 years, and last year chose an automatic. It’s gotten to the point where the drivetrain management system is so good that me trying to shift for myself is nothing more than meddling. The manual transmission had a good run, but its shifts are just too slow.

  • avatar
    lOmnivore Sobriquet

    Obviously a great shame.
    But I won’t be buying a new Béhème anytime soon so.. I suppose we’re living in silly times, when BM buyers find it better to loose control of the engine.

    • 0 avatar

      A duel clutch automatic offers more control than a traditional manual, not less.

      • 0 avatar
        lOmnivore Sobriquet

        Yes perhaps, I was expecting this kind of reply, ehem, a bit too affirmative to be true I think. But no argument here. Great paddling here, great paddling there, I guess.

        Following this line of thinking one could say the lastest trend in automatics is to aim at manual transmission.

        Next step, a ‘physical feedback’ ? How about throbbing sticks when ‘gearing’ along with computer driven pedal stiffness and real-time sound steel a-company ?
        Experience !

        A great show yes, and it’s already in the making. That’s the trend.
        I feel more relaxed when acting, simply.

      • 0 avatar

        If you ignore the entire part about giving up control of the clutch.

  • avatar

    “Future BMW M Cars May Not Have Manuals”

    My first thought: Why would a BMW even have a manual? You have to take it into the dealer for everything anyway!

    …I’ll be here all week.

  • avatar

    The Ultimate Driving Machine, now in automatic only.

  • avatar

    Autos are good, but I just can’t make the switch. I’ve driven a few cars with really good DCTs too. It’s just not the same.

    Given that the last M3’s manual take rate was 45% (as opposed to 0.45% of regular BMWs) I don’t see this as an issue. If people wanted the fastest cars for the money they wouldn’t buy M cars.

  • avatar

    Let me summarize that post for you:

    – Automatics are faster and more economical than automatics.

    – Van Meel says they will continue to offer manuals if buyers demand them.

    In other words: This post is 100% content free!

    • 0 avatar
      lOmnivore Sobriquet

      But so much passion laden.

    • 0 avatar

      +1 to carguy, sportyaccordy, golden2husky, et al.
      Article is not even enough to be clickbait or troll. Cmon, TTAC, pick it up.

    • 0 avatar
      Aaron Cole

      I think the head of BMW’s M division saying “Manuals don’t make sense anymore” is news. It’s also entirely his job to make money, can’t fault him for that.

      But this is writing on the wall — again.

      • 0 avatar

        “But this is writing on the wall — again.”

        Notice that “again” word. Notice also that BMW did not announce the discontinuation of any type of gearbox. Actually, notice that they did not announce anything at all except that they will continue to make the transmissions that their buyers like. That is why this is a 100% news-free post that just exists in the hope that the “manual vs automatic” passion will lead to a bunch of clicks and comments about how cars aren’t as good as they used to be.

        For reference, the only other auto site desperate enough for content to post this drivel was Autoblog.

        Please don’t turn TTAC into AOL.

        • 0 avatar

          It’s noteworthy for the head of one of the world’s leading sports car divisions to express pessimism about the future of the stick. The writing is on the wall.

  • avatar

    Doesn’t the current BMW manual already quietly do some rev matching for the driver? I forget what they named it, but you’re already not doing all the driving so go ahead, just buy an automatic. As for the engineering comparison between manual and auto, go look up the replacement costs for each tranny. There’s some hurt there.

  • avatar

    It’s about fun to drive. Sure auto’s are faster and so what? Who’s tracking their M anyway. Rowing your own gears is far more fun (and the ladies dig it more) and simply pushing a button (sorry, paddle) towards you.

    I’ve driven both and unless I’m in traffic, give me the manual.

    • 0 avatar

      Why would I want a non-manual in traffic? Maybe its just me but I prefer no forward creep and with modern engine electronics very slow speed movement in a manual is almost a non-issue.

  • avatar

    This is not surprising. Has everyone forgotten that the current M5 was originally going to be automatic only, until American outcry made them change their minds for the US market? I am unsure if they eventually released the manual M5 in other markets as well, it was US only at launch

    • 0 avatar

      The previous M5 was auto only in 2006. In 2007, they released the manual to the USA and Canada only, based on our bitching over not having a manual.

      They sold 1,364 manual tranny cars out of 9,491 total, a take rate of 14%, even against the jerky, expensive SMG that was in that car. BMW made 20,548 E60 M5’s worldwide, so only 6.6% had manuals overall.

      The M3 is the purist’s M car, so I can see the 40%+ take rate on a manual there, even against the amazing DSG in that car. For all the others, I can see the manual being dead.

  • avatar

    Buick-inspirierte Motoren Werke…

  • avatar

    It does not matter if DCTs are faster or offer more ultimate control. They decrease involvement, and the fun factor. Period. And when a DCT fails – even if it has a good 150K life, it is the end of the car. That take rate of 45% is quite good. The take rate on the C7 is only a bit less. And it offers rev matching to boot. Commuter? Auto all the way. Ultimate track time, got it. But for all around fun there is no substitute: Manual.

  • avatar

    I wonder which group is larger, manual tranny insistitori or people who still shoot 35 mm.

    • 0 avatar

      Last time I seriously shot it is was B&W 35mm (two years ago). Never owned an automatic car or truck. Last time I shot double 8mm was 12 years ago (I have since moved to digital video).

  • avatar

    This is about CAFE. The first phase through 2016 is kids’ play. The real horrors don’t begin until 2017. If the legislation remains as is, the car market, as we’ve known it during our lives, will be dead.

    Manuals and hybrids don’t mix well. CAFE 2025 will effectively require every sedan to be hybrid. That is all. FCA have no hybrid tech, and Sergio is shopping the company around.

    Manuals might survive, but they will probably cost a fortune, especially on overweight luxury sedans that require full-hybrid powertrain to meet CAFE.

  • avatar

    In ten years, plus or minus, we will see this same article published. The only difference is that “automatic transmission” will be replaced with “autonomous driving car” and “manual transmission” will read “driver-controlled car” The arguments will be the same: The autonomous car will get better mileage and be faster in real world traffic situations. The manually-operated car will be more fun, but those who care will be a smaller and smaller crowd. What will then be the point of having a BMW over a Chevy?

  • avatar

    Mashing the throttle and NOT getting a downshift is really very desirable at the high elevations and high inclinations (not to mention very slick conditions) where I live.

  • avatar

    I usually always prefer automatics, but the ones offered in the stuff priced under $21K still generally suck.

  • avatar

    I say if you are willing to put up with computer controlled suspensions, electronic steering and throttle and engine management then you should be able to deal with computer controls on your transmission.

    • 0 avatar

      But those items you list don’t materially change the way the driver operates the car even if they were NOT computer controlled. There is a big difference in driver actions between a manual and an automatic transmission.

  • avatar

    On the EPA website for fuel consumption, the real world feedback almost always shows superior consumption figires for 3 pedal cars.
    Autos are programed to game the test.

  • avatar

    Apropos of nothing, my parents owned a 1973 BMW Bavaria with automatic transmission that actually said “AUTOMATIC” on the back, the way a current BMW might advertise its all-wheel-drive capability.

  • avatar

    I think it has to do a lot with weight of the modern car. Heavy car with a manual transmission is a strange thing to drive (even one with a big engine). Weight reduces the feel that you get from the engine through the gearbox. Modern heavy cars are too muted – in feeling wise. Manual transmission makes sense when you can feel/hear everything – the engine vibrations, higher revs, noises from the gearbox, engine etc – with your butt, hands, feet – through the seat, pedals, steering wheel, gear lever. Modern sound insulation with heavy weight mutes everything.

    • 0 avatar

      Interesting point. It’s a lot like human obesity damping every rewarding feedback from activity. So just stay seated and open another bag of Doritos.

  • avatar

    What’s the point of a BMW or any other sporty car without a manual? Who cares if modern automatics shave a second of 0-60 times? You’re still just driving a glorified Buick without the manual.

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