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,
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
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.