QOTD: What Will Force You From a Manual Transmission, Permanently?

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis

Yesterday, Steph Willems penned a little Question of the Day about the manual transmission. In it, he asked what would have to occur to get you, the buying public, back into the manual transmission in a large-scale way.

As of this writing, it’s blowing up the comment counts as everyone lists the particulars of how they hem and haw over the manual transmission. Shifting a vehicle yourself is romanticized and desirable; a bygone art to be treasured and maintained for future generations of drivers.

Except when it isn’t. What would force you from a manual transmission vehicle for the rest of your days?

There are many arguments against the manual transmission; some legitimate, others petty. Commuting with a manual transmission is a hassle — modern congested roads make constant up-down shifting a chore. Modern automatics are efficient and have enough gears and programming to make the most of a powerful engine. This just wasn’t true in ye olde days of motoring.

On the other hand, some of you who deeply desire a manual transmission say a lack of this or that option is enough to make an “enthusiast” a turncoat.

“Why, if they offered ventilated seats or the larger screen in the manual trim, I’d be on board!” But the seats are only heated, and the screen is just six inches instead of eight, so you will not be a customer. I think there are greater forces at work though, forces which will push everyone from the manual transmission once and for all.

And here is the greater force. Lurking inside the Tesla pictured above is the company’s much-praised-sometimes-maligned Autopilot system. Tesla has been at the forefront of whiz-bang autonomous driving technology and continues to lead the way. Other manufacturers are catching up, slowly and surely implementing their own partially autonomous systems. Closer and closer we edge toward fully-autonomous vehicles.

This is a delight to the i-Consumer, the type of person who desires a cloud-based app life devoid of personal interaction or intervention. Lawmakers will see safety gains from autonomous driving and champion the predicted reduction in driving fatalities. Interest groups take notice and call for new regulations, and said lawmakers will happily concede for the greater good. Insurance companies will be on board too, as the dwindling number of human-driven vehicles will ease healthcare insurance costs and reduce automotive property damage.

Imagine the incentives Progressive will make available if their Snapshot system can tap right into the percentage of time you use autonomous capabilities in your car. Eventually there’s a tipping point — consumer car insurance becomes based on the “norm” of the autonomous driver, and the self-driven vehicle is now the dangerous outlier. Then see how affordable it is to drive an Accord of your own accord.

This brings us right back to the manual transmission. Autonomous systems are, by definition, the opposite of the intervention required by the manual transmission. Said manual is already losing the popularity contest, but it will be stripped from the consumer by the manufacturer, the i-Consumer, the interest group, the legislator, and the insurance man — all in the name of autonomy. And the majority will be clapping the whole time.

But maybe I’m wrong. What do you think will finally pry the manual shift lever from your hand?

[Images: Audi, Tesla]

Corey Lewis
Corey Lewis

Interested in lots of cars and their various historical contexts. Started writing articles for TTAC in late 2016, when my first posts were QOTDs. From there I started a few new series like Rare Rides, Buy/Drive/Burn, Abandoned History, and most recently Rare Rides Icons. Operating from a home base in Cincinnati, Ohio, a relative auto journalist dead zone. Many of my articles are prompted by something I'll see on social media that sparks my interest and causes me to research. Finding articles and information from the early days of the internet and beyond that covers the little details lost to time: trim packages, color and wheel choices, interior fabrics. Beyond those, I'm fascinated by automotive industry experiments, both failures and successes. Lately I've taken an interest in AI, and generating "what if" type images for car models long dead. Reincarnating a modern Toyota Paseo, Lincoln Mark IX, or Isuzu Trooper through a text prompt is fun. Fun to post them on Twitter too, and watch people overreact. To that end, the social media I use most is Twitter, @CoreyLewis86. I also contribute pieces for Forbes Wheels and Forbes Home.

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  • Japanese Buick Japanese Buick on Oct 08, 2017

    One word answer: Love My fiancée drives an automatic Solstice. She can’t drive my manual Miata, which is a weekend fun car. We live in a townhome community where having three cars is a hassle. Our fun car will be the Solstice, or maybe we’ll get a Mustang convertible. Either way the Miata will be sold. I never thought I’d say that, I’ve had manual Miatas for over 20 years. but I’d never had love like this either. The pleasure of the manual is fun but it pales in comparison to the other ways life has got better and having a manual just dropped down the priority list.

  • Ronange Ronange on Oct 08, 2017

    Personally, the fun factor has been taken away from today's manual driven cars. Things like taller gearing for the sake of fuel efficiency, clutch dampening to extend the clutch' life, and ECU induced rev-hang to efficiently combust fuel have removed the tactile feel and fun of driving a stick. Also, I think that mating a manual to high power, high torque cars lead to unmet expectations on how manuals should operate. I think manuals shine more on cars that are lower powered. They benefit more from the driver's skill to wind up the engine when needed.

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