Is the Manual Transmission Dying?

Lamborghini Gallardo Coupe

The end of manual transmissions?

If we ever see the day when a Mustang GT is sold with a slushbox only, I will officially give up my love of cars for good.

I started thinking about this because the guys at Car and Driver recently sat down with Maurizio Reggiani, the director of research and development at Lamborghini, to get a hint of what we can expect next from the exotic Italians. Reggiani said that Lamborghini’s priorities are:

1. Design
2. Handling
3. Acceleration
4. Top Speed

Fuel economy wasn’t on the list and, frankly, I’m happy to see that. However, the company will reduce emissions by adopting direct injection and cylinder-deactivation technologies.

Here’s the real sin, though: Reggiani hinted that Lamborghini may follow Ferrari in getting rid of manual transmissions from its vehicles. He said that manual transmissions are fitted to less than five percent of the company’s vehicles.

It makes sense, in a sick kind of way. But with raw horsepower inching closer to the 1,000 mark, it’s just getting too hard for a large portion of customers to handle it all. Modern automatic transmission systems are able to shift faster than any human can.

It seems like exotic car makers are all in a competition to beat each other’s acceleration times, which I’m afraid is leading cars away from actually being fun to drive.

We might as well put Lamborghinis on tracks and sell tickets to drive them at amusement parks.

Not that long ago, manual transmissions were the less-expensive, more-fun option that provided better fuel economy. Today automatics can wring out better mileage numbers, but they’ll never be as fun to drive.

As long as the exotics are the only ones to kill the row-your-own fun, I can live with it. But if manual transmissions eventually go the way of carburetors and crank windows, cars are going to be hard to love.

Will (or should) manual transmissions become obsolete?

-tgriffith

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3 Comments

  1. My love for cars has been dimishing over the years, for the fact that they are made all the same. There’s no originality in them anymore. I learned to drive by means of a manual transmission. You can only find them in base models, little 4cyl. paddicake cars, and yes sports cars, but even they are facing deletion with everyone wanting faster accerlation times. Most people have lost the pure simple pleasure of driving, being able to row your own gears and having full control of your car or truck without a computer telling you what gear it should be in. Its all about convienence, well convienence ain’t everything..having fun while you drive is…

  2. I love manuals too, but they will die–surely on most exotic, high-performance cars and eventually on others too. They simply don’t work as well. The Porsche two-clutch system already preselects the gear for you, and other systems will become more efficient still.

    LPs, according to some (like me) actually do produce better-than-digital sound but only in high-end playback systems. I don’t think manual transmissions will ever do better than the best automatics but, as you say, there will always be a small coterie of those who prefer them.

  3. I learned to drive on a manual transmission and still prefer the experience and feel a manual gives you, but many of the other reasons I used to prefer them are disappearing. Manuals used to always be available, they were always cheaper, and they always got better mileage. Not so anymore.

    Maybe manual transmissions will be the LPs of the 2010s: They’ll be made almost extinct by improved technology (automatics and CVTs, instead of CDs and MP3s). But then enthusiasts will call attention to how much better an experience they provide, and they’ll come back into fashion, at least among purists. Of course, if manuals do follow the LP pattern, those back-in-fashion manuals will be heavier and more expensive than the original stuff as well as the technology that almost killed them. People are funny, eh?

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