But the manual is still living on borrowed time. Read why.
Eventually, the manual transmission will no longer be needed, but not necessarily due to a lack of willing buyers. The reason is autonomous technologies. Self-driving cars and manuals don’t go together. Today, however, the manual gearbox continues to thrive, at least for BMW USA. Speaking to Car Advice, BMW M chief Frank Van Meel revealed that some 50 percent of M2 buyers are opting for a clutch pedal instead of the dual-clutch option.
“Buyers vote with their wallets,” Van Meel explained. “Being an engineer I would say from a rational standpoint that even though the manual gearbox is lighter than an automated gearbox it uses more fuel and is slower, so it doesn’t really make sense.” He’s right.
Computer-controlled automatics and DCTs, despite being heavier, are more fuel efficient, and efficiency is the name of the game these days. But the traditional manual isn’t about to walk off into the sunset just yet. “But from the emotional standpoint, a lot of customers say ‘I don’t care, I want to have one (a manual)’. As long as we have these take rates on M2, but also the M3 and M4, we’re going to offer manuals because we listen to our customers… if demand is so high, then why not fulfill it?”
That sounds all well and good at the moment, but Van Meel has to admit autonomy will eventually sign the manual’s death warrant. “The bad news is that if we one day have autonomous cars, then the manual cannot work anymore, so that would be, let’s say, the natural end.” Fortunately, BMW’s upcoming next generation modular architecture, the basis for a good chunk of vehicles including sedans and M cars, can accommodate a manual gearbox. We should view the state of the manual as something living on borrowed time, regardless of automaker.