Automatic transmissions may be your only choice within a couple years. The deathwatch for manual transmissions started more than a decade ago, when the first cars began to deliver better EPA results with automatic transmissions than with stick shifts.
The double-clutch automated transmissions favored by European automakers may fall out of favor as automatics add more gears. Even BMW sees the change to automatics coming, especially as some BMW engines approach 500 hp — something its manual gearboxes can’t easily handle.
4 reasons manual gearboxes are dying off
Already, your choices for manual transmissions are limited to small economy cars (and then sometimes only on the cheapest trim line with the smallest engine), sports cars such as the Mazda MX-5, and higher end sports cars and sports sedans.
What’s killing the manual gearbox?
- Automatic transmissions shift faster, transmit more energy to the driveshaft, and have as many as 10 forward gears.
- A generation of drivers grew up without access to manual gearbox cars and aren’t inclined to learn as adults.
- Double-clutch transmissions weaned enthusiasts away from cars with clutch pedals. The DCT is a mechanical gearbox with clutches, but the gearbox itself engages and disengages the clutch.
- High-performance engines that develop 400 hp or more have too much torque for the gearbox suppliers of preference to handle. American companies have manual transmissions that work, but European automakers say they’re clunky and stiff.
BMW sees manuals, double-clutch gearboxes gone by 2024
In an interview with Drive (not The Drive), Peter Quintus, VP of sales and marketing for BMW’s M performance division, said he sees manual gearboxes (and double-clutch gearboxes) going away in 6-7 years, replaced by mainstream torque converter transmissions.
“We are now seeing automatic transmissions with nine and even 10 speeds, so there’s a lot of technology in modern automatics,” Quintus said. “The DCT once had two advantages: it was light and its shift speeds were higher. Now, a lot of that shift-time advantage has disappeared as automatics get better and smarter.”
At the performance end of the car market, manual gearboxes may not be strong enough to handle the torque (power) of high-performance engines. BMW has M division engines on the cusp of breaking 500 hp. According to Quintus, the limit of high-quality manual gearboxes with good shifting feel is about 450 hp and 440 foot-pounds of torque.
Asked by Drive about manual transmissions sourced in the US able to handle more power (American V8 engines), Quintus said, “We looked at US gearboxes. We found they were heavy and the shift quality was awful,” he said, adding, “I’m not even sure the next generation of M3 and M4 models from BMW will have the option of a manual gearbox.”
More cars with 8-, 9-, 10-speed automatics
Automakers have been stepping up the number of gears in automatic transmissions already, for better fuel economy and also to have the correct gear for more driving situations. Lexus claims its Lexus LC 500 (photo above) is the first luxury car with a 10-speed automatic.
Ford and General Motors jointly developed a 10-speed automatic for rear-drive cars, with Ford taking the design lead. It shows up initially on the Ford F-150 and the Chevrolet Camaro, with a 650-hp supercharged engine from the Corvette. There is a smaller, follow-on design for smaller vehicles with less intense horsepower output, with GM leading the design effort. There will also be a Ford-GM nine-speed automatic for front-drive and crossover vehicles. GM says it will put it on at least 10 vehicles by the end of 2017. Going from four to five speeds increased mileage by as much as 5 percent. Going to nine or 10 speeds has a smaller improvement. The 2017 Chevrolet Malibu with the nine-speed gets 33 mpg, while the 2017 Malibu with an eight-speed got 32 mpg, making the improvement 3 percent.
Others with nine-speed automatics include Chrysler, Honda, and Land Rover.
This article and images was originally posted on [ExtremeTechExtremeTech] May 4, 2017 at 03:39AM
By Bill Howard