Survey Says: Drivers Almost Never Use Paddle Shifters, Yet Paddle Shifters Are Everywhere

Timothy Cain
by Timothy Cain
survey says drivers almost never use paddle shifters yet paddle shifters are

Many new automatic transmissions are capable of shifting with a level of enthusiasm foreign to owners of cars that are only moderately old. Like, say, from 2009.

Many new automatic transmissions also shift faster and more intelligently and more consistently than you or I could ever hope to with a manual transmission.

And with manual transmissions dropping like flies, the quality of a these intelligent, consistent, rapid-fire automatic transmissions’ shifts should theoretically matter more than ever. Yet automakers are increasingly turning to paddle shifters as a means of giving control back to the driver. According to Edmunds, 186-percent more new vehicles feature paddle shifters in 2017 than in 2007.

Despite the fact that drivers don’t want the control.

According to General Motors, 62 percent of drivers used their paddle shifters less than two times per year, the New York Times says.

You eat kale more often than that. You buy your wife flowers more often than that. You listen to a complete Justin Bieber song more often than that. TTAC changes managing editors more often than… no, not quite.

Twice per year. Once every 183 days. Once every 9,500 miles, on average.

There was a time when the installation of flappy paddles in an automatic-equipped car was supposed to signify that not all sportiness was lost; that the driver still possessed a measure of allegiance to DIY driving.

But last week, in the 2018 Honda Odyssey Touring with which our family spent the week, there were paddle shifters. Sound silly?

I used them. You better believe I used them.

I’m clearly not normal, because I use paddle shifters in almost every vehicle so equipped. But it’s not because the road is twisty and I want to perfectly time the ZF eight-speed’s downshift. No, we’re approaching the end of a steep descent and I want some engine to help out the brakes. No big deal. Blip blip.

The New York Times, however, references one Cheryl Griffiths, the new owner of a Subaru Crosstrek in Queens, New York. Cheryl didn’t know “the truck” had paddle shifters. “I have no idea what those things are. I just drive the car,” she said.

Cheryl’s not like Fred Roberts, who felt it necessary to purchase a new car, a Mercedes-AMG E43, that had paddle shifters. “I find the paddles very functional if you know how to use them,” Fred says.

In some cases, the letdown is not in the performance of the paddle-induced downshift but rather in the quality of the paddle itself. On the one hand, you have the Ford Mustang’s separating plastic; on the other, an Aston Martin leather and metal bi-plane of glory.

Despite extra cost, Toyota will continue to install paddle shifters in the new Camry, America’s most popular car, because 35 percent of Camry owners “have or want paddle shifters,” Toyota’s product planning manager Ronnie Nomoto says. Something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, that.

Regardless, it’s highly unlikely that paddle shifters in the 200 vehicles now being sold with paddle shifters will be wielded for good or for bad. Note the absence of one word in Toyota’s statement: use. Have or want? Sure. But use? Not so much.

[Images: Mercedes-Benz and © Timothy Cain]

Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and and the founder and former editor of Follow on Twitter @timcaincars.

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  • VatizzleMcDilderjazz VatizzleMcDilderjazz on Jul 18, 2017

    Very few automatic anythings are at the ratio or gear I really need them to be in at any point in time. The LC500 was probably the only exception so far. When I'm alone, which is 70% of my driving, I paddle shift the F. I know what gear I want to be in - the cars never do.

  • Tankinbeans Tankinbeans on Jul 18, 2017

    I've had them in a couple cars and tried using them, but when the car constantly overrides the manual mode and shunts the transmission back into fully automatic it gets to be more of a hassle. Also, audible queues about when to shift have neen virtually non-existent. The most recent setup I have experience with is in a 17 300S. The car shunts back into auto at the drop of a hat. Why bother?

  • Keith Maybe my market's different. but 4.5k whack. Plus mods like his are just donations for the next owner. I'd consider driving it as a fun but practical yet disposable work/airport car if it was priced right. Some VAG's (yep, even Audis) are capable, long lasting reliable cars despite what the haters preach. I can't lie I've done the same as this guy: I had a decently clean 4 Runner V8 with about the same miles- I put it up for sale around the same price as the lower mile examples. I heard crickets chirp until I dropped the price. Folks just don't want NYC cab miles.
  • Max So GM will be making TESLAS in the future. YEA They really shouldn’t be taking cues from Elon musk. Tesla is just about to be over.
  • Malcolm It's not that commenters attack Tesla, musk has brought it on the company. The delivery of the first semi was half loaded in 70 degree weather hauling potato chips for frito lay. No company underutilizes their loads like this. Musk shouted at the world "look at us". Freightliners e-cascads has been delivering loads for 6-8 months before Tesla delivered one semi. What commenters are asking "What's the actual usable range when in say Leadville when its blowing snow and -20F outside with a full trailer?
  • Funky D I despise Google for a whole host of reasons. So why on earth would I willing spend a large amount of $ on a car that will force Google spyware on me.The only connectivity to the world I will put up with is through my phone, which at least gives me the option of turning it off or disconnecting it from the car should I choose to.No CarPlay, no sale.
  • William I think it's important to understand the factors that made GM as big as it once was and would like to be today. Let's roll back to 1965, or even before that. GM was the biggest of the Big Three. It's main competition was Ford and Chrysler, as well as it's own 5 brands competing with themselves. The import competition was all but non existent. Volkswagen was the most popular imported cars at the time. So GM had its successful 5 brands, and very little competition compared to today's market. GM was big, huge in fact. It was diversified into many other lines of business, from trains to information data processing (EDS). Again GM was huge. But being huge didn't make it better. There are many examples of GM not building the best cars they could, it's no surprise that they were building cars to maximize their profits, not to be the best built cars on the road, the closest brand to achieve that status was Cadillac. Anyone who owned a Cadillac knew it could have been a much higher level of quality than it was. It had a higher level of engineering and design features compared to it's competition. But as my Godfather used to say "how good is good?" Being as good as your competitors, isn't being as good as you could be. So, today GM does not hold 50% of the automotive market as it once did, and because of a multitude of reasons it never will again. No matter how much it improves it's quality, market value and dealer network, based on competition alone it can't have a 50% market share again. It has only 3 of its original 5 brands, and there are too many strong competitors taking pieces of the market share. So that says it's playing in a different game, therfore there's a whole new normal to use as a baseline than before. GM has to continue downsizing to fit into today's market. It can still be big, but in a different game and scale. The new normal will never be the same scale it once was as compared to the now "worlds" automotive industry. Just like how the US railroad industry had to reinvent its self to meet the changing transportation industry, and IBM has had to reinvent its self to play in the ever changing Information Technology industry it finds it's self in. IBM was once the industry leader, now it has to scale it's self down to remain in the industry it created. GM is in the same place that the railroads, IBM and other big companies like AT&T and Standard Oil have found themselves in. It seems like being the industry leader is always followed by having to reinvent it's self to just remain viable. It's part of the business cycle. GM, it's time you accept your fate, not dead, but not huge either.