By on February 16, 2017

aston martin db4 gt

Who loves stick shifts? Aston Martin CEO Andy Palmer loves stick shifts!

In an industry that’s rapidly heading towards autonomous vehicles, “mobility solutions” and other high-tech dreams of a 21st century society, Old World charm is becoming increasingly hard to find. Leave it to a British automaker to take a stand for old technology.

During a speech at the Canadian International Auto Show this morning, Palmer declared his devotion to the antiquated row-your-own transmission, stating that Aston Martin will always keep the three-pedal lifestyle alive.

In his address, Palmer said that Aston Martin will always have at least one model available with a manual transmission. Always — as in forever and ever. For 2017, Aston returned the stick as an option on the V12 Vantage S.

Many will hope that Palmer, as well as other automakers, succeed in keeping the dream alive, though the group is perpetually dwindling in numbers.

An Edmunds study published late last year showed that less than 3 percent of the vehicles sold in the U.S. were stick-shift models. Europeans are known to enjoy manually changing their own gears, but those numbers are slipping. It’s also more due to a quirk of history. In the 1940s, there were far more pressing issues facing Europe than worrying about how to give a person’s left foot a rest while driving.

Now, automatic transmissions with eight, nine, or ten speeds battle it out with smooth, never-shifting continuously variable units and sporty, lightning-quick dual-clutch gearboxes.

Ferrari has already abandoned its manual transmissions. So has Lamborghini. Porsche seems to be on the road to doing so, though it maintains — like other automakers — that it will produce manuals only if there’s sufficient demand.

We don’t know if Palmer’s decree will be chiseled in stone and placed at the gates to Aston Martin’s Gaydon headquarters in Warwickshire, England, but perhaps it should. Palmer might feel this way, but the next CEO to come along could feel differently. Actually, so could Aston buyers.

Still, it’s nice to see a CEO from a country best known for burled walnut, tweed and breakfast fishes keeping the torch of tradition aflame.

[Image: Aston Martin]

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32 Comments on “We’ll Never Abandon the Three-pedal Lifestyle: Aston Martin CEO...”


  • avatar
    carguy

    Its a nice sentiment but good luck selling stick shifts to your middle aged target demographic.

    • 0 avatar
      S2k Chris

      Isn’t that who buys sticks? Millennials don’t know how to drive stick.

      • 0 avatar
        White Shadow

        Exactly. I have to stand up and applaud Aston Martin, but in reality, “never” is a long time. Eventually, they’ll abandon the three-pedal lifestyle or at least stop selling new cars that have three pedals and keep the lifestyle alive with older cars.

  • avatar
    Cactuar

    Astons will be very popular at the local hippodrome.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Economics always wins. Does A-M outsource its transmissions?

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Had a nice pub lunch in the late 1980’s with Aston Martin’s then Head of Engineering and Head of Design.

    At the time, A-M had a team of people scouring the USA for old Chrysler automatic transmissions which they would buy and rebuild for use in their new autos. Those were the only transmissions which met their weight, size and engineering requirements.

    • 0 avatar
      Felix Hoenikker

      Arthur,
      Sounds like the transmissions Chryco used in their mimi vans starting with the V6s would not have met the grade either. I’m not a FCA hater, but based on the experiences of friends who had Dodge or Chrysler minivans, you were lucky to get 70k miles out of a tranny before it failed.

      • 0 avatar
        rpn453

        I imagine they would have only been interested in the longitudinal transmissions.

        It’s amazing what an upgraded rebuild can do though. My buddy imported a 2006 Dodge 2500 Cummins automatic from the U.S. to Canada after rolling his ’04 during low speed off-roading. Our dollar was around par so it was an economically favorable purchase and he figured he could just use it until he got his other one repaired. He knew those automatics were weak but couldn’t resist chipping it just a little bit. It failed almost immediately. He had it rebuilt at a performance shop and it had no problem running for years even after more serious engine upgrades and tuner stacking that resulted in around 600 hp, 1200 lb-ft, and the ability to spin all four tires off the line.

        The engine upgrades also resulted in melting the pistons onto the sides of the cylinder walls and shooting flaming chunks of turbo out the exhaust at one point. The price you pay to play, I suppose.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        Felix, Not the self destructing 4 speeds that Chrysler put in their Caravans.

        Older 3 speeds from Imperials and Newports and perhaps Chargers (?).

        More than robust enough to handle A-M’s requirements.

  • avatar
    MAGICGTI

    BMW famously declared in the 1990s that they would never make a front-wheel drive car.

    Aston won’t ditch the manual, until the new CEO is in office.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      Or when the bean counters inform him these vehicles aren’t selling. I’d love to show my support for this guy but can’t afford any Aston. Maybe the stick vehicles will be offered on discount?

      The day Mazda drops the stick from the Miata is the day we know the war is lost. I fear the ‘Vette will drop the stick within the next 2 generations.

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        My thoughts as well. The Miata is a much better bellwether than Aston. Besides, 500+ hp 250K+ dollars cars, mostly driven at less than twice national speed limits, aren’t the most natural platforms for manuals to being with.

  • avatar
    zerofoo

    Never is an awfully long time.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    With the success of the 911R as an investment vehicle, I think we could see a resurgence in the manual supercar.

    Down here in working man’s land though, as long as they don’t outlaw motorcycles I’m OK with the automatic’s near complete takeover. I will get my fill from karting and sim racing.

    • 0 avatar
      FormerFF

      Do you drive a shifter kart?

      When I updated to Windows 10, I lost the ability to use the clutch pedal on the Logitech G27 wheel I use for iRacing.

    • 0 avatar
      raph

      Bah… I hope a manual will be alive in some form (hopefully pony cars for decades to come). What a sad day the world will be when you cannot row your own gears in a new vehicle.

      If that day comes sooner that later I think I will be just fine building and daily driving a Factory Five Type 65 Coupe.

  • avatar
    carguy67

    As long as I can get a Mustang GT with three pedals all will be well.

  • avatar
    tlk

    If you think you won’t miss having a manual, learn how to double clutch and heel toe your downshifts and report back ;)

    Of course the vast majority of the minority will never do this, even among enthusiasts…

    • 0 avatar
      White Shadow

      There’s really no learning curve to double clutch. Anyone who can drive a stick can double clutch. It’s the same thing with more steps added in.

      Heel & toe does take a bit of skill though….

    • 0 avatar
      FormerFF

      Duuuuuuuuuude-

      I learned to drive in a VW based dune buggy at age 13, got my first motorcycle at 15, got my first car at 16, an Opel Manta with a four speed stick, of course. I drove stick shift cars from 1973 until 2014, save for a 10 year period when I used my tow vehicle as a daily driver. I have 14 seasons of SCCA racing under my belt, the last six in a Formula Ford, which has a crash box (non-synchronized)transmission. Three years ago, I went shopping for a new car and came back with a plug in hybrid, which has a CVT. I thought I’d miss shifting, but I really don’t.

      AS far as double clutching goes, it’s really only useful if you’re driving something with a non-synchro transmission, like a very old car, or heavy trucks built in North America. If you’re in a car with a synchronizer equipped transmission, you may want to double clutch if you need a really quick downshift, but most of the time you can do without it by just downshifting a little more slowly. If you’re stepping into the realm of heel-and-toeing, now you’re downshifting while braking, and the only place I can think of where you need a quick downshift while braking is at the race track. Learning to keep your toe pressure on the brake pedal constant while blipping the throttle with your heel is a little tricky to learn, but like anything else, it’s a skill that just takes practice.

      If you don’t have to deal with that third pedal, that opens up the possibility of left foot braking, which can be very useful in filling in the traction circle. My car has a CVT, which is not typically thought of a sporting transmission, since most of them are tuned for fuel economy. I do believe it could be an excellent high performance option given the proper programming. In any case, in SCCA the Formula 500 guys get good use out of their CVTs.

      If you can, sign up for one of those supercar experiences, preferably one that offers the Porsche 911 GT3. It is an amazing track tool, and the PDK is brilliant, it may change your mind about automatic gearboxes. There is a certain subset of American automotive enthusiasts who make driving a manual transmission equipped car to be some sort of mystical experience. As someone else pointed out a few weeks ago, there are parts of the world where everyone and his grandmother drives a manual transmissioned car, and nobody thinks twice about it. It’s just another skill to be learned.

      • 0 avatar
        OldManPants

        “the last six in a Formula Ford”

        Is *that* what your user name means? I thought it was Fire Fighter.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        FFF: the key is that you learned and know all those things and therefore you understand how physics applies to driving.

        However, those who have only driven an automatic generally do not learn those skills or understand how to safety operate a car under adverse conditions or in an emergency.

        That is why, they should at least acquire the skill.

        Once they have it they can, like you, choose whether or not they wish to use it regularly. Just like swimming. Just because you don’t live near the ocean does not mean that it is not useful to learn how to swim.

    • 0 avatar
      Trev Limiter

      I do both these things in my NB Miata. On the rare occasion when I want to shift directly from 2nd to 5th, double clutching is necessary to avoid grinding the gears. Heel toeing took several months to master, but now it’s second nature. Those who want to learn should try it every time they slow down for a red light or stop sign. That’s a good way to get plenty of practice without spending any extra time in the car.

      For me, the biggest “Aha!” moment with regard to heel toe was learning to blip the throttle a little more than what is strictly necessary. I used to think I had to stab the throttle just enough to achieve the perfect engine speed, but judging what that exact RPM should be (and timing the release of the clutch pedal to coincide with it) is impossible to do consistently. Safely overshooting by 500-1000 rpm and catching the tachometer needle on the way back down the dial is far easier.

      • 0 avatar
        FormerFF

        I assume you mean when shifting from 5th to 2nd. Yeah, that’s a big jump, and that’s asking a lot of the synchronizers, especially in car that has some bottle age on it.

        • 0 avatar
          Trev Limiter

          No, 2nd to 5th, like when I want to accelerate up to the speed limit as quickly as possible, then continue to cruise at that speed. Thankfully, I never have to double clutch while heel toeing.

  • avatar
    Not_a_luddite

    Save the Manuals.

  • avatar
    northeaster

    CEO’s have a remarkable habit of being forward thinking and insightful.

    Until they change their minds because economics have changed.

    Then they repeat the process.

  • avatar
    soberD

    Perhaps he sees all the money being made on ‘pre-owned’ limited-edition manual transmission cars (911R, Ferrari 599) and figured there’s a way for AM to get in on that.
    Sell X00 manual vantages for Y00,000. Allow VPs to drive a few for 3k miles. Sell ‘certified pre-owned’ for 3*Y00,000.

  • avatar
    IBx1

    “At least one” car with a manual option; just so happens to be the same car that came out around 2002 or so. All their newer releases and concepts have been automatic, which is why I can’t remember what most of their concept cars look like.

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