Top three business reasons to save the manual transmission

April 13, 2016

Gates are great in the Audi R8.


What I write here isn't at all unique, groundbreaking, or unheralded. It's a topic that's been covered at least 26 times by every automotive publication known to man (rough estimate; accuracy unverified). You see, manual transmissions are on the way out. They've been making a slow, steady march towards extinction for a fair number of years now. Car people, such as myself, are naturally distressed by this trend. Here, I'd like to represent manual transmissions as the defendant in the case made against them by most major manufacturers of motor cars.  


Reason #1: Niche demand still exists.


I'd like to call the Toyota GT86 to the stand as a witness. Soon after its release in 2012, the GT86 (Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ in America) was the fastest selling vehicle in the States, and most of them are manual. Admittedly, those numbers have slowed considerably in the following years, for a simple reason — the niche dried up. Tons of people wanted a GT86, so they bought one. Regular point-A-to-point-B-type consumers — those liable to drive, say, a Camry — aren't likely to purchase a GT86, since its athletic, lightweight stature also makes it "noisy" and "unrefined" and rather impractical. Because Toyota has yet to make any major changes to the GT86, the niche customers who like those sorts of things aren't all too inclined to swap out their old models. But, building up to and during its initial release, people were excited. Toyota (yes, Toyota, master craftsman of boredom on wheels) had created a buzz, and that led to lots of demand for a car with a manual gearbox. Someone else, please follow suit. (Looking at you, Nissan. I want a Silvia successor.)


Reason #2: Manual transmissions make your brand look cool.


Being a lover of imported automobiles, I used to despise Ford on principle. But today, I admire Ford. What changed my mind? Ford started building cool stuff. First, they transformed the Mustang GT into something that actually behaved like a sports car and not a mattress with a V8 (which does sound like a good time). Next came the updated Focus ST and its bigger, badder brother, the Focus RS. Then came the turbocharged, 4 cylinder 'Stang (which is basically the Silvia successor Nissan won't build) and the almighty Shelby GT350. Even the tiny Fiesta ST is pretty sweet (which totally should have been called the Fie-ST). Guess what all these cool cars have in common? You can get them with a manual, and they wouldn't be cool if you couldn't. As a young man who will one day buy a new car, I am a customer that Ford would dearly like to capture. By offering cool things with stick shifts, I'm more inclined to buy a Ford, and I'd bet my piggy bank I'm not alone. I'd like to buy a car from car people, and Ford has firmly declared that their people are car people. I'll stick to people like that. Pun intended.


Reason #3: Manual transmissions just might allow a brand to differentiate itself.


As you've no doubt figured out by now, automatic transmissions rule the day. They're seen as more convenient among American buyers, and convenience is everything for stupid Americans (we're not all stupid, but you get my point). But here's the thing — everyone talks a big game about their advanced automatics, and no one is talking about manuals. That means there might be a void in the market. There's a space for someone to do something different. And I say, talk about your manuals! Tell me about how cars aren't appliances! Reignite the connection between man and machine! Hire me to write about it for you!


If you're a manufacturer, you want to make money. As a driver, I want to shift my own gears. Shut up and take my money. 


Footnote: I didn't mention the Ford GT because, while being extremely cool, it probably won't offer a manual option. Not even the Porsche 911 GT3 comes with a stick anymore. According to Porsche, that's partly because it serves as the basis for the 911 race car, and race customers have no need for a manual option. Regardless, GT3s will surely fly out of showrooms like hotcakes regardless of their transmission type. In the case of stratospheric supercars such as these, I'm actually fine with paddles. It suits the exotic, racy nature of the cars, and cracking off lightning-fast shifts is loads of fun. But for everything else that isn't trying to achieve liftoff when you accelerate, for the love of life, give me a stick. (Author's note 6/26/17: Well, the 911R is a thing now. Surprise, they sold out overnight.)


Footnote #2: I would never replace the sticks in classic supercars like the McLaren F1 or Ferrari F40. Mechanical masterpieces deserve manuals. 



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