The End of the Manual Transmission? Why the Clutch is Losing to the Automatic

The End of the Manual Transmission? Why the Clutch is Losing to the Automatic

The traditional stick is a dying breed. No, it’s not a melodramatic statement -- it’s a fact, plain and simple. Ever since General Motors introduced Hydra-Matic as the world’s first fully automatic transmission in 1939, it seems the stick shifts’ popularity has slowly and gradually declined over the years.

Don’t get us wrong — we love manuals. Most of our first driving experiences were fond (yet terrifying) memories of stubborn clutches and disgruntled gear shifts on inclined roads and bridges. But getting sentimental wouldn’t really explain how far automatic cars have changed over the years. However, it is these changes that are causing the end of the manual transmission worldwide. Just look at these trends and see for yourself:

Automatic cars are becoming more fuel efficient

One of the most forceful arguments of stick fans is that they take less fuel compared to automatic, saving between 5% to 15% on fuel costs. But that was a long time ago. Automatic cars have gotten so advanced that they now have the ability to provide better fuel-economy compared to manual gearboxes. Here’s why: many of them now use tricks like neutral coasting and taller gears when slipping the transmission at low speeds (try searching for Porsche’s “virtual gears”). Vaguely (and very loosely) translated, these features make cars sip less fuel on the road.

Automatics are becoming less expensive to produce

This is true in most cases, although there are some automatics that offer almost the same (or even lower) prices than their manual counterparts. Here’s an example:

Manual vs. Automatic cost comparison ©

As you can see from the chart, the manual transmission versions of these cars are actually more expensive compared to their automatic counterparts.

Car manufacturers are shifting to automatic

Many small cars are abandoning the manual gearbox such as the Honda Civic and  Kia Picanto. Race car manufacturers have also jumped into the bandwagon. Ferrari and Lamborghini took out their manual option years ago.

Automatics are just as fast and smooth as manuals

The advancement of automatic-gearbox technology is one of the reasons why automatic cars are becoming formidable contenders to manual gears. Take the case of its Dual-Clutch Transmission (DCT). DCT  works just like manual transmission — only without a clutch pedal to distract you. It works by letting computers, hydraulics, and solenoids do the actual shifting. All you need to do is tell them when to take action.

Good dual-clutch transmission systems not only can shift faster than any person ever could. In fact, a Ferrari that's manually-driven even by the best test drivers can zoom from rest to 100kph in 4.2 seconds, while those equipped with DCT can do that in 4 seconds. Don’t think that a .20 advantage is a small deal. It's vitally important, particularly in car races where even a .20 second difference can help a driver win the race.

DCT also allows gears to remain engaged at all times, eliminating shift lags that once plagued old automatic transmission models.  Not only does this lessen the shift shocks that are seen in manual (and even some automatic gears), it also results to better fuel economy rates.


Automatics are made for city driving

Have you ever tried driving a manual in traffic? Call us vain, but we’d like to at least see our calves and leg muscles look proportional to each other. Stick driving can also cause a lot of strain on neck and back muscles, so fatigue easily sets in. Now imagine driving like that for hours everyday, and you'll see why drivers are perpetually stressed out all the time.

Matics are ideal to use when it comes to traffic because you don’t have to strain your leg when you’re shifting the clutch and changing gears. This means less stress on the body. Besides, using two pedals instead of three significantly lessens the amount of energy you use while driving.

What's the future for manual transmissions?

With so much promise that automatic transmissions make, is manual transmission really doomed to total annihilation? We don’t think so — well, not in the near future, to say the least. We think that there will always be a demand for these cars, especially for drivers who are more into enjoying their ride than using it for their daily commutes.

Besides, if ever it does go "extinct", it might just as well evolve into something better. Take the case of dinosaurs. Yes, they’re extinct, but they’ve evolved into modern day endothermic vertebrates called avian dinosaurs. Simply put, they’ve evolved as birds. We think manual transmission will be just that. A lot of modifications might happen, and they may not even resemble the old one, but the essence of manual driving — which is to be in control of your car — remains the same.

Whatever the case, using a stick shift is something we still want to do because they look cooler (and sexier) compared to matics. They can be more difficult to use, and they can literally burn our calves to shame, but we’ll gladly pick a manual vehicle for one and only one reason alone: they're fun. And that beats driving an automatic any time of the day.

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