It wasn’t too long ago that we were discussing the decline of V6 and V8 engines in favor of more fuel efficient naturally aspirated and turbocharged four-cylinder engines for mainstream vehicles. However, we’re also beginning to see the death of another automative staple: the manual transmission.
According to the Detroit News, more than 91 percent of 2009 model year cars sold in the United States came equipped with an automatic transmission. Advances in technology are making the “fuel economy gap” that one favored manuals over automatic transmissions disappear. And in many cases, automatic or CVT-equipped versions of vehicles get better fuel economy than their manually-shifted counterparts.
In the case of the 2011 Mustang V6, the automatic transmission achieves 19 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway. The manual transmission version also achieves 19 mpg in the city, but gets a slightly lower 30 mpg on the highway.
As for the Honda CR-Z, the difference between the automatic transmission and the manual is even more dramatic. A CR-Z with a CVT transmission gets 36/38 mpg (city/highway) versus 31/37 for the manual transmission.
High performance cars, often a sector where you’d expect to only find a manual transmission, are ditching traditional manuals for single- and dual-clutch automated transmissions. Sports cars like the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG and Ferrari 458 Italia are only available with dual-clutch transmissions.
“Europeans tend to buy manuals on entry models, while Americans view it as an option for enthusiasts,” said BMW 5-Series project manager Willem Rombauts.
“Manuals lend a special connection to the car, and that’s highly appealing to our customers,” said Mini project manager Vincent Kung. “Looking at the next generation of the Cooper, we’ll continue to see a significant place for the manual.”
In addition to the fuel economy benefits mentioned before, automated transmissions now often provide faster acceleration as well. It’s a win-win in the technical sense. However, many people feel that they aren’t “one with the machine” if they don’t have a third pedal on the floor and a stick to row.
Others see the rise of automatic transmissions as byproduct of America’s laziness and penchant for multitasking be it eating, talking, texting, or applying makeup while driving. Whatever the reasons for uptick in automatic transmission adoptions, it doesn’t appear to be a trend that will stop anytime soon — at least not in the United States.
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