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Death of the manual

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Miranda Lightstone
I’d like to vent for a moment, if you’ll allow it.

Full disclaimer: I realize that the consumer take-rate for automatic vehicles is far higher than that of manuals. I also know that dealers are more likely to stock automatics than manuals knowing they will sell them more quickly and have more readily available models their consumers want -- they know they will reach a wider audience. Manual vehicles are often only available as base, starting-price models and sometimes only available via special order. They are not a common purchase nowadays.

Let us all take a moment of silence to remember the much-loved manual transmission. Remember the good times (even the bad), the fun we had, the experiences we gained. Let’s remember the feel of pressing our left foot into the floor, depressing that fabled clutch pedal and moving the shift lever into gear; click. Remember rev-matching, down shifting and heel-toeing.

That’s right: the manual is a dying breed. It pains me to say it, truly it does, but it’s going the way of the Dodo bird and has been dying a slow painful death for the last few years. .

I don’t need sales numbers to tell me that, I only need my profession.

How is that so, you ask? How can I, as an automotive journalist, see this trend of automatic cars overtaking the industry? Should I not be driving all my test vehicles with a stick shift? Oh, if only it were so… if only it were so.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that we auto journalists are only killing off the manual transmission further. Blasphemous? Perhaps. But here’s the deal: 95% of the vehicles on press fleets these days are automatic transmissions. Why? Because manufacturers are tired of replacing clutches.

Of all the drivers out there, we auto journalists should be more than capable when it comes to three pedals and a shift lever. However, it seems many of us need to go back to the drawing board on this one. And that really upsets me, actually.

I’m just going to go ahead and say it: If you can’t drive stick, you shouldn’t be testing cars. Period. Would you be a programmer if you couldn’t even code in HTML? Maybe, but I’m pretty sure you’d get some serious looks from other programmers, and perhaps not be taken as seriously as you could in your profession. It’s all about the basics. Being able to shift your own gears is at the heart and soul of driving, it is what driving is all about. If you can’t do it, then you can’t call yourself a driver.

We, as journalists and “game changers” if you will have the chance to bring about a new age of manual lovers, to encourage future buyers that manual cars can be just as enjoyable as automatics (and a helluva lot less boring). By driving, testing and reviewing manually equipped vehicles, we can help promote a dying breed, help bring back a way of driving that’s soon to be lost.

Sure new dual-clutch systems can shift more quickly than any human ever could, and I am in no way putting down transmissions like PDK or DSG, that’s not the point here. Those particular systems are an engineering feat and on a level all their own.

What I’m trying to get across is that we auto journalists need to go back to the basics. We need to remember our roots, rediscover and rekindle the reason we all fell in love with cars to begin with: The drive. You’ve not truly driven a car until you’ve become one with the system that controls and harnesses the power beneath the hood: the transmission.

Stop letting an automatic do the driving for you and drive your own car.

2013 Porsche 911 Carrera S shifter
Photo: Sébastien D'Amour

Miranda Lightstone
Miranda Lightstone
Automotive expert