The Manual No More . . .

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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 manuals. 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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54 COMMENTS

  1. Almost all of my vehicles have been manual transmissions. This ’22 car has been the first automatic, and even after a year, I am STILL looking to “downshift” when I slow down to make a turn somewhere. This was my first Winter with it, and what a trip that was! It was almost like learning to drive all over again. Even with the new, blizzack snow tires and all-wheel drive, I think the darn thing was still a bit squirrely on the roads. I think I have far more control in the Winter on these roads with the manual trans than the automatic. Never mind they are nearly theft proof. I do admit, it is a lazy way to drive over having to shift when driving. Given a choice, I would have a manual, but as you state, Eric, finding one is akin to finding an honest politician these days. Oh yeah, and because my old car is a manual, no governor on it. I would bet this new, automatic has one.

    • Hi Funk,

      This ersatz “clutch” – accompanied by fake “shifts” and “noise” is akin to beating off to porn. It bears little relation to the real thing.

      • While it seems to be telling that they would go so far as to simulate such things, do they really think this is sale-able or are they just taking the piss? Stupid gaijin wants to pay to be lied to! Erectric car save environment! Har har!

  2. 2023 manual shift cars

    https://gearjunkie.com/motors/manual-transmission-cars

    I leased a Mustang GT company car with an automatic that my wife could drive. Which she did, a lot. The next year I began leasing only Mustang GT company cars with stick shifts, so the wife wouldn’t be able to drive them. She had her own auto transmission car.

    One year I got a Mustang GT convertible with a stick shift. The wife wanted to drive it during the summer while I was at work in Dearborn. So she learned how to use a stick shift all by herself. Then I drove an extremely boring Ford Taurus to work all summer.

    If my wife, who is not particularly coordinated, can learn to drive an early 2000’s Mustang GT stick shift, with a heavy clutch spring, then anyone can.

  3. ” 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.”

    Isn’t that exactly what VW got busted for? But, as you said Eric, it wasn’t about emissions but, making EV’s look bad.

  4. Consider the possibility that one important reason manufacturers stop offering manual transmissions is that they can’t sell enough of them to make the effort worthwhile. This “justification” is not new news.

    • That may be true but the “shift”: is accelerated by fuel economy regulations. I iamgine a manual would be about $2000 cheaper than one of these 10 speed automatics. And of course more enjoyable.

  5. One thing that has contributed to the death of manuals is the intentional gaming of the transmission ratios away from economy and in favor of something else. Almost every manual transmission car has a higher numerical axle ratio and less steep overdrive gearing than their automatic counterpart. As a result, a huge mileage penalty on the order of 3-4 mpg is paid for driving manual. It’s bullshit.

    Back in 2009, I test drove a Jaguar S-type with an automatic and a manual transmission. I really wanted a manual car, but the S type with the stick was loud, the manual kind of clunky and the car revvy. I preferred the automatic version and ended up buying a 2003 model for about 10k at the time.

    I know why these dishrag auto manufactuers do crap like this. They hate their customers and hate motoring in general, as a rule.

    All that said about the Jag, I wish I would have gotten the stick. I would have a rare car that would have incrementally less likely to break than an automatic version.

    I am glad to see that some manufacturers haven’t given up on manuals, but it is telling when the Ultimate Driving Machine company hates their cars and customers than they take away the manual. It’s a matter of time before they’re gone.

    • Swamprat:

      I couldn’t agree more. I flew from SE Michigan to Wisconsin to purchase a 2011 Nissan Frontier (back in 2018) with a Manual and drove it back. I looked for months locally and couldn’t find one I liked (low miles and no rust). About 95% automatics.

      It has a six speed manual.

      Sixth gear is barely taller than fifth. It could easily get by with a 30% taller 6th gear and I’d still never have to downshift to climb the steepest grades I ever encounter at highway speeds.

      And even if I did – who cares? Does anybody actually need to race from fifth to sixth gear – making the reduction in RPM from that critical? No – everybody is done racing by the time they get to the top of fifth gear.

      But instead I’m stuck with a louder cruising vehicle that still only manages 20 mpg on the best day (at 80 mph).

      So I’ve got more engine wear, a louder cruising environment, and crappier mileage.

      Exacerbating this is that the previous owner put on a Magnaflow exhaust and it has a horrible drone. There is no such thing as a quiet Magnaflow muffler.

      I’ll get around to a quieter muffler here soon.

      Anyway – If I had the means – I would modify the overdrive gearing to make it much taller. I’ll get around to that the 12th of never.

  6. There may be some good news. Apparently the 2024 Toyota Tacoma will have an expanded availability of the manual transmission across its line.
    It seems that Toyota and Mazda will be leaders for proper vehicles going forward with a few bright spots at Ford.

  7. NASCAR is using automatic transmissions now too, F1 cars and Indy cars were already using auto transmissions.

    In F1 the cars have power steering, it is too hard for the drivers to steer them…lol….at least Indy cars have manual steering…some driver effort required still….at least F1 and Indy cars don’t have other driver’s assists, the street legal sports cars are close to 100% driven by computers now….just put your foot right to the floor and the computers do everything for you….but zero driver involvement …..no satisfaction having computers do everything for you….people are getting dumber today no skills….losing skills….

    People developed skills to drive cars, now it is being lost….soon the globalist control group will take away people’s cars completely…cars were one of man’s favorite things….soon to be taken away by the globalist satanist death cult government….the elite control group will still drive their Ferrari’s though…

    There is very few cars with manual steering racks now, there is also fewer with hydraulic steering racks too now, electric powered steering is taking over.

    The Mercedes AMG GT has a hydraulic steering rack still, it gives better feed back and feel …..some say that makes it better then the 911 now which has electric assist steering now.

    • The people who have these fast point and press appliances are quite annoying on the road. They seem to think they are superior or better because their car drives better than people like myself who still have real cars. There’s really two classes now. I don’t get any gruff like that from people with cars that require someone to drive them well.

    • “ The Mercedes AMG GT has a hydraulic steering rack still, it gives better feed back and feel”

      I’m thinking this is part of the problem with my 2018 Gran Cherokee, electric steering where the ‘05 was hydraulic. I had a ‘99 Pontiac elec steering it didn’t drive worth a damn either. I cannot get the GC to track straight line, you herd it more than drive it. Alignment helped some but I believe the computer controlled steering “effort/feel” is to blame. The ‘05 Grand Cherokee tracked straight line as if on rails.

      Re: manual transmissions, loosing the art of driving mechanical things well. Anyone remember the skill of a perfect double clutch downshift? My ‘69 Alfa had a silky smooth hydraulic clutch and a 5 speed box with nice ratio spacing. 2nd gear synchros balky on a cold morning!

  8. I grew up with manual transmissions “Three on the tree” and multiple “Fours and Fives on the floor.” Now I am much older, and all four cars are automatics. They are mostly older cars 20 to 30 years older. Traffic being the bane of our “Modern lives” has had a large influence in the dominance of automatic transmissions. The Deep state of unelected clones did the rest. A Pox on them.

    • Right Roland,
      I was amongst the overwhelming majority that voted for that, A poke in the eye to crony capitalism’s car manufacturers and a win for the independent mechanics. Too bad about “saving our democracy” when it bumps up against our overlords wishes.

    • >The NHTSA’s main objection is with the Data Access Law allowing access to a vehicle’s telematics, used to send commands wirelessly.

      Smokey the Traffic Cop sez:
      “Remember, only the government is allowed to hijack your vehicle for nefarious purposes. Stay ‘safe,’ kids.”

  9. My wife just bought a new car and when she was looking she said ‘I want a manual’.
    So she drove a lot of cars and settled on the CT4 V Blackwing which still comes with AT or MT. BUT the kicker for her was the MT could not be remote started which was a deal breaker for her. Seems silly to me that they can’t.
    The CT4 and CT5 Blackwings both still offer a MT.

      • I’ve always been leery of it. I would rather be in the driver’s seat when I start it, to make sure oil pressure comes up, and piston rods aren’t trying to come through the side of the block, before they do, and any other problems. Starting is the most high stress one puts on an engine. It’s cold, and has no oil pressure. I’d rather be there. Newer vehicles are much better about it, but I didn’t grow up with newer vehicles.

        • John, our new Corolla hybrid has remote start, but I think you have to pay for it by subscription so we won’t be participating. Wouldn’t want to use it in the garage anyway.
          With the hybrid, it’s possible to drive quite a distance without the engine starting, but when it’s needed it will fire up. I shudder to think of someone standing on the accelerator when the oil is still ice-cold. I suppose that’s one reason it uses 0W-16 synthetic oil. The stuff is so thin it runs right off the dipstick, making it really hard to check.
          Toyota’s been building these things for a long time though, so I guess they know what they’re doing.

      • The problem with aftermarket remote start is that the car can be left in gear, remote started and take off. This happened to someone on a mustang forum when I still followed some. Car was at the dealer for service and the page hit the remote start and the car was in gear and took off through a fence.

      • It can be installed aftermarket but it’s potentially dangerous.

        They have to disable the switch that locks out the starter unless the clutch is depressed.

        That’s all fine if you don’t park it in gear & use the e-brake. Otherwise you might be fishing your car out of a lake, or worse.

    • The lower take rate on the MT makes it easier not to offer the remote start. Otherwise there needs to be a switch to show the car is in neutral and a by-pass for the clutch depression switch. Can it be done? Sure. It’s a pretty easy circuit to run. The signal branches to the clutch pedal switch and the transmission neutral switch. If either is closed the engine is allowed to crank. But it comes at a cost.

  10. My daily mover is an automatic, which is fine since we’ve become Atlanta.

    However, my hobby requires towing an 18′ equipment trailer. Having a standard shift would’ve made it so much easier i.e. being able to choose the gear for the condition. Instead, my 23-year-old truck’s automatic shifts up/down when it’d be easier on the truck / trailer / load / my rear end to just stay in the right gear (again for the condition). That’s even with the tow/haul mode on.

    Always said my next truck (back when I could afford one) would be a standard shift. Oh well.

  11. My motto is simple: no manual, no interest.

    Whats wrong with getting a 90s Toyota Landcrusher from Japan with a stick for a family vehicle, or a Taco or if I wanna go domestic, Dadditator.

    Vote with your money, let these new auto only cars wither on the vine

  12. Since my health forced me to forgo manual transmissions about a year ago, I’ve grown to detest ATs. I find them much harder to drive than manuals, especially as regards maintaining one’s speed which is a polite thing to do in traffic, and one of my many pet peeves directed toward other drivers. There is no engine braking by simply letting off the throttle, which in an AT is like taking it out of gear. Which means downshifting or braking is required. Which means brake lights come on, which gives the wrong signal to drivers around you.
    Of course that is an aside of the great pleasure I used to get driving a manual, none of which I get from an AT.

    • It wasn’t a legal change. And even if it was, wannabbe Dictator would veto i. The ATF is free to do as it pleases. Personally, I doubt the ATF or any other agency gives one hoot of any concerns the People have.

    • It wasn’t a legal change. And even if it was, wannabbe Dictator would veto it. The ATF is free to do as it pleases. Personally, I doubt the ATF or any other agency gives one hoot of any concerns the People have.

  13. I have no faith at all in any politics.
    However, it appears the US Congress has told the ATF to STFUP and sit down regarding pistol braces.
    Of course they should have de-funded and abolished the ATF, but a tiny light is still a light. I doubt it will ever take on the EPA or the DOT though.

  14. ‘lower emissions of the One Dread Gas, carbon dioxide’ — eric

    ‘Carbon dioxide’ sounds so anodyne — it’s the gaseous form of harmless dry ice, after all. So, just as gene-therapy shots were renamed ‘vaccines’ to seem friendlier, CO₂ needs to be rebadged as ‘carbon direpoxide’ to emphasize how bad, how very very bad, it really is.

    Likewise, casually using the term ‘tranny’ to denote a manual transmission now verges dangerously close to toxic homophobia and misgendering. ‘Elle est morte‘ [‘she is dead’], a French acquaintance once told me of his deceased Peugeot 504. But a manual trans car, with that phallic gear change lever sticking out, seems to identify as a girly man. And it is not our place to question it.

    Cockney rhyming slang might euphemistically designate such a non-binary vehicle as an ‘Haricot’ (‘Haricot bean’ = ‘queen’). But better just to quietly phase out these automotive chimeras, since they emit way too much carbon direpoxide. 🙁

    • They’ve already re-branded CO2 as Carbon, which many if not most will associate with a nasty black substance that’s hard to get rid of. As in soot or charcoal.

      • >Carbon, which many if not most will associate with a nasty black substance that’s hard to get rid of.

        Which is obviously racist, the “white,” or more properly, transparent, form of carbon being highly prized for both cosmetic and industrial purposes.

    • Or perhaps a “Fava,” as in, I drove his Flivver, with a four speed Fava, and some nice Italian queen, 80 octane red it was.

  15. Interesting that VAG is going all automatic. I guess the European driver’s distain for automatics is no longer. I guess now that “driver assist” will be standard too the Germans can forget about lane disipline and start tailgating on the Autobahns. Don’t worry, your 911 GT3’s automagic brakes will save you from slamming into the Sudanese truck driver doing 40 KPH in the left lane.

    • Hi RK,

      It’s the latest round of “Euro” emissions regs that accounts for VAG’s (and probably, BMW’s) decision to go automatic-only. The compliance regime is now so extreme that even fractional differences in “emissions” and mileage are determinative.

      • So I guess the Miata will take over the sports car market. It more or less has anyway, given such as the Z4 which weights about 3500 pounds, and so in my mind is NOT a sports car.

      • Yes, but even with lockup torque converters and wet clutches a trained driver will get better milage than an automatic, simply because he can anticipate upcoming conditions and preselect. Even when I was using the flappy-paddles on my A3 the damn thing wouldn’t let me pick the gear to get out of the apex properly, so the engine would lug along for a second then decide to shift where I told it. You do that all day, aproaching hills, traffic and turns, and it adds up.

        But I guess the only thing that matters is how it performs on the dyno, not in real life.

  16. I drove an orange Datsun 210 hatchback for years. Ugly car, but fun to drive and never needed anything but oil changes and tires for 125,000 miles . Once I learned, as a teenager, driving a stick was super easy and if I had bought a replacement would not have hesitated to get another manual transmission car. Instead I ended up driving hand me down automatics for the next 15 years. When I test drove M cars at the BMW dealership last month they had nothing on the lot except a new just delivered two seater M2 (which was tiny but super fast) And a manual M3. I was set to drive that and as we pulled out the sales guy realized it had no gas in it. What! Part of me wonders if having been so many years later I might have ground the gears of the dealers $75,000 car the first few shifts!

  17. Typo-At any rate, fewer cars (and trucks) are built with automatics. (Shouldn’t that say manual?)

    Eric-It is impossible to program a manual, which is a mechanical device.

    If I remember correctly my buddies 96 Camaro’s 6 speed manual would automatically up shift a few gears if the computer felt he should be in a higher gear at low speeds. Well the mechanic fixed that issue with some sort of an aftermarket part.

    TPTB don’t want you to enjoy your car as they know it will be harder to take them away from us if we like them. I had the bike out yesterday and got to enjoy all of it’s gears manually.

    • Hi Landru,

      Thanks for the catch; just fixed!

      On the Camaro (and Corvette) of the same era: GM had a “skip shift” feature that would attempt to force a premature upshift (to “save gas) which wasn’t exactly programming but more like over-riding.

      • Skip-shift solenoid.
        Prevents 2nd gear engagement under pre defined perimeters. Enabled Camaro SS to achieve the magic 25 mpg epa number which kicks the gas guzzler tax out by going 1-4. Can be disabled very easily. Also, if you shift above 2500 rpm or give it more throttle, the “force 1st-to-4th shift” solenoid won’t engage.

        Forrest Gump engineering to annoy customers.

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