Risky Business: GMC Debuts New Gear-Shifting System

2018 All-New GMC Terrain Denali Electronic Precision Shifter


Every year, new “must-have” features seem to appear in cars. From ventilated seats to Apple CarPlay to little mustang-shaped puddle lights, when it comes to bringing in new customers, a product manager’s creativity knows no bounds.

Sometimes, however, little tweaks can result in fiery backlash, and this has rarely been more evident than with the current trend of updating automatic-transmission gear-shifters.

Fiat Chrysler’s decision to change the gear-shifter found in Jeep Grand Cherokees, Dodge Chargers, and Chrysler 300s from the traditional “P-R-N-D-L” layout to its irregular Monostable shifter resulted in an NHTSA investigation. And when actor Anton Yelchin’s Grand Cherokee rolled backward, crushing him to death against his property’s fence, uncertainty regarding the shifter’s role in the accident shone a spotlight on the controversial technology.

In his review of the 2017 Audi A4, Chris Wardlaw notes that someone over in Ingolstadt had a serious brain fart when they designed the electronic shifter, and George Kennedy also expresses concerns regarding the 2017 Genesis G90’s unorthodox shifting mechanism. So imagine our surprise when GMC debuted a new interface for General Motors’ Electronic Precision Shifter in the 2018 Terrain.

We’ve seen a shifter with this name before in the 2017 Cadillac XT5. But while that mechanism looked much more similar to traditional automatic-transmission levers, the system employed in the new Terrain seems more likely to be confused for the crossover’s climate-control system. And the company isn’t being coy about the new system’s purpose, writing:

GMC’s new Electronic Precision Shift enables more storage room in the center console by replacing the conventional transmission shifter with electronically controlled gear selection consisting of intuitive push buttons and pull triggers.

So, is GMC really putting a potentially dangerous component in its brand new crossover just to free up a little extra space in the center console? To be honest, I’m not so sure.

You see, the primary problem with Chrysler’s Monostable shifter was that drivers found it confusing to operate and sometimes weren’t sure whether their cars were in Park or Reverse. That doesn’t look like it will be an issue with GMC’s shifting mechanism. The buttons and triggers are clearly labeled, and one would assume that GMC has included safeguards ensuring that mistakes—like accidentally punching the “P” button or pulling the “R” trigger while cruising the interstate—are minimized, if not rendered impossible.

From my vantage point, GMC’s shift mechanism looks like a creative space saver, and some may even find the new interface more user-friendly than the classic lever. After all, the Alfa Romeo 4C uses transmission buttons, and I’ve never heard someone complain after driving that car.

Do you think the 2018 GMC Terrain’s brand new gear-shifter is a valuable space saver, or a lawsuit in the making?

-Matt Smith

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2 Comments

    • You’re absolutely right, Clint! Remind me, how did that turn out for Edsel?

      But on a serious note, the Terrain isn’t the only modern car with a push-button transmission, either. The Lincoln MKZ has one on the left side of its center stack: https://cargur.us/dSzGM

      However, I can’t think of any modern cars that employ the same pull-trigger interface as the Terrain!

      What do you think of the shifter? Are these good space-savers?

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