The Manual No More . . .

  • June 16, 2023

Why are cars – and trucks – with manual transmissions becoming as hard to find as a car or truck without “advanced driver assistance technology”?

It’s what the manufacturers want, is why.

The latest example being BMW, which is on the verge of becoming an automatic-only manufacturer. Even to include BMW’s M cars – the letter denoting the highest-performing BMWs, such as the M5 sedan (which is already automatic-only) and other M variants of BMW vehicles. Almost all of them are automatic-only. Within a few years, they are likely to all be automatic-only.

Not just BMW M cars, either. It looks like every VW will soon be automatic-only, too – including the GTI performance variant of the Golf.

This is interesting because at one time – it was not a long time ago – most performance cars came standard with manual transmissions or at least offered them. BMW was once famous for selling performance sedans with manuals. For awhile, Nissan – emulating BMW – did, too.

The reason being they were also enthusiast’s cars, by which is meant they were cars bought by people who liked driving them – which is an activity distinctively different from being driven by them.

Cars with automatics were (and are) easier to drive, of course. They require less of the driver. And this is precisely why most drivers prefer manual-equipped cars. They require more of the driver – who must be able to drive the car in order for it to go. It keeps away those who are not able, in other words. If the car is manual-only (as the Dodge Viper was) then it is a car that isn’t one just anyone can drive.

The current automatic-only Corvette is.

This detracts from the honor of owning one that attended owning a Viper, which is not a car just anyone could drive.

It is true the Corvette is the winner, by the numbers. But numbers are statistics and they cannot convey emotions. Imagine rating classic works of art according to numbers – as opposed to how they make you feel.

Government feels nothing. Government apparatchiks – the bureaucrats that infest the varies “agencies” – feel, at best, indifference to your feelings. And because they can legislate – via regulations, which have the force and effect of laws but sans any mechanism such as elections that might hold those who issue them accountable for the harms and impositions they visit – the feelings of the apparatchiks take precedence over yours. If they feel that “higher gas mileage” or lower emissions of the One Dread Gas, carbon dioxide, that has harmed far fewer people than the “vaccines” that have killed thousands takes precedence over what you prefer, then it will.

Via the manufacturers – who must comply with the regulations legislated – for all practical purposes – by the apparat.

This is the chief reason why manuals are going away – while “advanced driver assistance technologies” are becoming ubiquitous. There is a feedback loop component – as regards manuals – in that buyer interest in them has declined, even in the performance car segment. But there is no question it has declined to a great extent on account of uncommonness – caused by the regs.

The regs put pressure on the manufacturers to comply with them. It is easier to comply with the regs by selling automatic-only cars (and trucks) because it is possible to program an automatic to shift in such a way as to do better on the tests by which compliance with the regs is graded. For example, the automatic can be programmed to shift up to a higher gear sooner, which can increase the car’s tested miles-per-gallon numbers. And the engine’s operations are more consistent, serving the same compliance purpose.

It is impossible to program a manual, which is a mechanical device. How and when it shifts is entirely up to the driver, who may shift in such a way as to use less – or more – gas. That is not a problem for the driver. But it is a problem for the manufacturer. In terms of compliance.

At any rate, fewer cars (and trucks) are built with automatics. As a result, fewer are in circulation – and fewer people learn to drive manual-equipped cars for that reason. They then buy automatic-equipped cars – and the feedback loop waxes. Fewer buyers want manuals. Fewer manual cars (and trucks) are made.

Soon, inevitably, almost none will be left.

It’s not only a decision of BMW” to walk away from manual transmissions, says Dirk Hacker, who is the head of development for BMW’s M division. “It’s also a decision of the suppliers. If you take a look around, you will see the future for manual gearbox suppliers will decrease. So I’m not sure we will have the possibility in the future . . .”

Meanwhile, there is a future for “advanced driver assistance technologies” – and for more or less the same reasons. The bureaucrats within the apparat feel they are necessary and so you will have them. If you drive a new car, you already do – as it is no longer possible to buy a 2023 model car (or truck) that does not come standard with “advanced driver assistance technology.” 

Made necessary, in part, because of regulations that have made cars so easy to drive that a growing cohort can’t.

At least, not without the “assistance” of “technology.”

. . .

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