Well, ladies and gentlemen, the moment has arrived: it’s time for yet another column about the death of the manual transmission. That’s great, right?! You’re excited! You’re pumped! You’re thinking: I wonder what’s on Autoblog today!
But don’t go away just yet. You see, this column isn’t like all the other articles about the death of the manual. I know this because the other stories use sobering facts to point out that the manual is dead; facts such as “Only 0.001 percent of all cars ordered last month were manuals, and they’re all Kia Rios” and the even more troubling “Vermont drivers say they may buy their next used Saab with an automatic.”
My story, on the other hand, doesn’t have any facts. This won’t surprise regular readers, since I generally do my best to avoid printing any sort of truthful information in my articles. So I’ll skip the numbers, and percentages, and interviews with teenagers who don’t even know what a manual transmission is. (“Is that when your iPhone won’t, like, send a message automatically, so you have to, like, manually transmit it?”)
Instead, I will make an entirely different point. And that point is: I’d gladly pay more money for a manual transmission.
Before I explain myself, a little background. As some of you know, I used to work for Porsche. (Motto: “There is no substitute, and if there were, Ferdinand Piech would silence it.”) At this point, I would like to reveal Porsche’s strategy on manual transmissions, but I believe I’m under some sort of non-disclosure agreement filled with clauses such as: For God’s sake don’t tell anyone the Cayenne is actually built in Slovakia!!!!
Still, as an astute reader who’s well aware that the Turbo and GT3 no longer come with three pedals, you can probably figure it out. If not, I can help you along with just a little hint, stopping short of violating anything I signed as a wide-eyed 21-year-old whose thoughts primarily consisted of: When do I get my car?
My hint is that Porsche’s strategy is somewhere along the lines of: FOR GOD’S SAKE DROP THE MANUALS AND REPLACE EVERYTHING WITH PDK!!!
PDK, you see, is Porsche’s dual-clutch automatic transmission that shifts roughly as fast as those Amazon jungle lizards eat flying insects. Here’s how it works: one day, you’re cruising along in second gear, approaching redline, reaching for the upshift paddle, and then BAM!! You’re inside the stomach of an Amazon jungle lizard.
No, what really happens is that it upshifts and downshifts very quickly, which is apparently useful on the racetrack. No one really knows that for sure, however, because new Porsche owners don’t actually drive on the racetrack, unless “the racetrack” is defined as the Whole Foods near my house.
Anyway: as PDK became more and more refined, Porsche started putting it in everything. First the Panamera was PDK-only, and a few people grumbled. Next, it was in the 991 Turbo. Then the GT3. By the time I left, my electric stapler had PDK.
And this is all well and good, because PDK does a great job with a lot of things. Quick gear changes. Fuel economy. Letting you surf the web while you drive. But what if I still want a stick shift in my damn sports car?
Porsche’s answer is: Tough luck. Sure, you can still get a stick shift in a 911 or a Boxster. But that probably won’t be the case for long. Ferrari has already abandoned it. Lamborghini has, too. And while BMW hasn’t dropped it entirely, it’s clear they prefer gear changes to be carried out using that weird silver thing shaped like a melted sunscreen bottle.
Of course, there are good reasons for dropping the stick shift. One is that by making the automatic standard, automakers can build it into the price and charge more. Another is that it’s really expensive to engineer a manual for the small percentage of weenies who still want to change gears themselves.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why my plan is – as usual – so brilliant.
By charging us more for a stick shift, automakers can take the already inflated automatic-only price and add more to it. This will especially please Porsche, whose product strategy appears to consist entirely of seeing how much people will pay for options. But more importantly, the engineering can be financed by the promise of people spending extra money just to have three pedals. And while paying extra may sound bad, enthusiasts benefit too, since the manual will live to see another day.
The big question, of course, is: will we actually pay extra for a stick shift? My feeling is the answer is yes, largely because whenever a cool new car is announced as automatic-only, Internet car enthusiasts respond with roughly the same force as the international community did that time Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.
But, believe it or not, you can’t always trust Internet car enthusiasts. For that reason, I turn to the used Ferrari market, where – and bear with me now, because this is an unusual display of facts in one of my articles – the 360 Modena and F430 equipped with a stick shift actually sell for the same price as those models with an F1 automatic. These aren’t cheap used cars, either: we’re talking about buyers who spend six figures paying the same for a manual or an automatic. This is in spite of the fact that, when new, an F1 transmission was an optional extra, priced roughly the same as a three-bedroom condo in the Upper Midwest.
Therefore, I suggest to automakers: give us stick shifts, and don’t be afraid to charge us extra for them. If that doesn’t work, then maybe it’s time to admit defeat. But until you’ve given it a shot, don’t let the manual transmission fade away for good. There are still a few of us who want to row our own gears – and we’re not all in the market for a used Saab.
@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He operates PlaysWithCars.com and writes for The Truth About Cars. He owned an E63 AMG wagon and once tried to evade police at the Tail of the Dragon using a pontoon boat. (It didn't work.) He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the third person.