In 1964 Bob Dylan famously sang, “The times, they are a changin”. Now, I don’t think he was talking about cars at that point in time, but, the song seems terribly applicable when looking at the transmission shift being seen in the American vehicle market today, a shift that was made all the more apparent by the admission of Chevrolet executives that they expect more than half of the new 2012 Camaro ZL1s they sell to be purchased in the two-pedal, automatic, form. What?!
That’s right: Chevrolet is producing a 580 HP, MRC Suspension, monster of a Pony Car, and they expect more people to want to buy it in Automatic than Manual. To me, this is insanity. I come from the generation of drivers who worship the clutch pedal for all of its power and potential, and who can’t imagine driving a sport vehicle without one, but it seems that my generation of driver is becoming an anomaly. The current most-powerful Camaro, Chevrolet’s Camaro SS of over 400HP, sells over 70% of its vehicles in Automatic, and there’s reason for this.
Once upon a time, the only reason to go to Automatic was for the ease of it. A talented drive could shift with much less delay than automatic transmission had, and had control over their RPMs when shifting. Beyond those numbers, larger numbers of gears and more race-friendly gear ratios meant that manual vehicles were built, quiet simply, to outperform their two-pedal counterparts. Today though, advancements in technology have made the Automatic transmissions in most cars just as performance viable as manuals (and, in the case of some Ferrari/Lambo level vehicles, more efficient and race friendly than a human being can even manage). The up-tick in Automatic sales over the last many decades, based primarily on their ease of use, has also lead to an interesting phenomenon: fewer and fewer and fewer people are able to drive a stick shift, and this is a self-perpetuating trend, also, because as fewer people who can drive stick-shift exist there are fewer people with that knowledge available to teach the newer generations of automobile drivers how to handle the three-pedaled transmission. Ultimately, the Automatic transmission has killed the Manual slowly over time, and in the modern-day (where ZL1′s sell more than half their vehicles in Automatic, and the base Corvette sells Automatics at a 65% tick) we live in, it looks as though we’re seeing the final swan song of the stick-shift car.
Of course, and this is the hardest part of all of this for me to swallow, this isn’t a bad thing. The demise of the manual means that, eventually, automobile companies wont even need to bother with the manufacturing and production of two different transmission types, and the cost of the transmission–as a component of the vehicle–will go down. Also, with the incredible advancements in technology I’ve seen in my lifetime, and the advent of Automatic assisted Manual transmission options–like the world-famous, Porsche derived Tiptronic and its counterparts–Automatic or Automatic Assisted Manuals (Manumatics) can actually lead to increased performance numbers. In fact, most of the world’s most high-end performance cars, like the aforementioned Porsche line, utilize some form of Manumatic transmission.
Am I happy about this? No, I’m not, but I’m also a cranky old man with an extreme nostamania. Do I understand this? Absolutely.
So, what do you think? Is this shift in transmission a good thing or a bad thing? Should I, as a car enthusiast and automotive nut, lament the death of the manual transmission? Will the experience of driving, even without the involvement of the left-foot and the feel of the clutch engaging and disengaging, remain the same? What do you think? Me, I think something is lost in an Automatic, but this thinking probably has me lost in the past in the modern Automotive market.