The Evolution of Manual Transmissions: The Rise and Fall of a Automotive Staple
In today’s fast-paced world, the automotive industry is constantly evolving, bringing forth new technology and leaving obsolete equipment behind. One prime example of this is the gradual disappearance of the manual gearbox. As we eagerly await true self-driving cars with advanced systems, it’s important to acknowledge that certain features that were once standard are now becoming rare.
The decline of the manual gearbox can be observed in many markets, not just in North America where automatic transmissions have historically dominated. Data from JATO Dynamics indicates that this type of transmission is losing popularity worldwide. This shift is transforming the motoring landscape, making way for more advanced and convenient alternatives.
Europe serves as a great example of this transition. In the year 2000, nearly all new cars registered in Europe were equipped with a manual transmission. Specifically, 89% of new cars featured a manual gearbox, with some countries like Italy, France, Spain, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, and Portugal even surpassing a 95% adoption rate. Exceptions to this trend were Norway and Switzerland, where approximately 25% of new cars were automatics.
However, over the years, the popularity of manual transmissions in Europe started to wane as different types of automatic transmissions entered the market. By 2017, the overall manual take rate had fallen to 78% of new cars, and this number has continued to decline. As of 2022, it dropped further to 34%, and in the first half of this year, it stands at only 32%.
There are several contributing factors to this decline. One being that drivers are becoming more aware of the advantages and ease of operation offered by automatic transmissions. Additionally, traffic congestion in many cities has worsened, making the convenience of an automatic gearbox more desirable. Moreover, the price gap between manual and automatic transmissions has significantly shrunk. The rise of electric vehicles (EVs), led by manufacturers like Tesla, has also played a role in this shift. EVs do not require complex multi-speed transmissions to efficiently utilize the power of their torque-heavy electric motors, rendering manual transmissions unnecessary.
On the other hand, manual transmissions remain a viable option for buyers in emerging economies such as Latin America and South Africa. In these regions, over 30% of new vehicles registered still come equipped with manual gearboxes. Low-income consumers in these markets consider the price gap between manual and automatic transmissions as a crucial factor in their purchasing decisions.
Will the inevitable arrival of affordable electric cars further change this landscape? The significant drop in manual-equipped cars in China, where lower-priced EVs are gaining popularity, paints a gloomy picture for enthusiasts who enjoy the thrill of a three-pedal driving experience.
It’s crucial to acknowledge that as automotive technology continues to advance, certain elements of the driving experience we’ve grown accustomed to will inevitably disappear. While manual transmissions may not be as prevalent as they once were, their legacy will undoubtedly remain cherished by automotive enthusiasts worldwide.
In conclusion, the automotive industry’s rapid evolution has led to the rise of new technologies and the obsolescence of old ones. The manual gearbox, once a standard feature in cars, is gradually disappearing as automatic transmissions become more popular globally. While emerging markets still embrace manual transmissions, advancements in electric vehicles and the convenience of automatic gearboxes have led to a decline in their adoption. Nonetheless, manual transmissions will always hold a special place in the hearts of automotive enthusiasts, even as the driving experience continues to evolve.