We suspect that auto executives are tired of C/D editors’ anxious queries about the future of the manual gearbox. Engineers have long since decided that the latest generation of clever automatic transmissions are technically superior, but Luddites like us still enjoy shifting our own gears.
Fortunately, some car companies remain willing to give the people what they want. The boss of BMW’s M division, for instance, has confirmed that manual transmissions will survive into the next generation of the company’s products, although they will eventually be killed off by the move to higher-level autonomy.
“The bad news is that if we one day have autonomous cars, then the manual cannot work anymore,” BMW M chief Frank van Meel told us at a recent press event in Spain, “so that would be, let’s say, the natural end. But that’s still some time away.”
Which brings us to the good news: BMW buyers-particularly Americans-are still choosing stick shifts in sufficient numbers to justify continued development for certain models, specifically the M2, M3, and M4, as well as their successors.
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“The BMW M2 Competition still has the manual for a reason, because in the U.S. we have more than a 50 percent take rate on manual transmissions for the M2,” he said. “Buyers vote with their wallets for manual transmissions. Now, 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 . . . But from the emotional standpoint, a lot of customers say, ‘I don’t care, I want to have one.’ As long as we have these take rates on M2, and also the M3 and M4, we’re going to offer manuals, because we listen to our customers. Even though as an engineer I’d say we don’t necessarily need one. If demand is so high, then why not fulfill it?”
So stop reading this and hurry down to your local BMW dealer shouting, “Take my money!"