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Manual gearboxes Are they on the way out

Technology changes happen slowly, and then all at once. We used to be content with our 3310s, now every man and his dog own a smart phone. Video recorders were once considered a luxury item, now Smart TVs are a mainstay of many households. So will manual gearboxes go the same way? Let’s find out…

A numbers game

2013 was the year the big guns fell well and truly out of love with manual and leapt into lust with automatic. A ream of popular cars were replaced without the option of a manual gearbox including Aston Martin’s V12 Vantage S, Renaults new Clio RS 200 Turbo and all Lamborghini’s new supercars. Quite a statement.

However despite the anti-manual sentiment and rise of the paddle gearbox, approximately three quarters of the 1.8 million new cars that were bought in 2013 had a manual gear box. Meaning only a quarter were automatics. Hmmm.

If you look at the sales figures of new cars since 2004, it is true that the manual gearbox has tanked, but only slighted. It is nowhere near the frantic rate you might believe. In 2004, just over 17% of the 2.55 million new cars sold had an automatic gearbox. That is a rather meagre rise of 7.6% over the last ten years.

Mainstream opinion

It’s when you look at the major manufacturers you understand where the hype comes from. Supercars aplenty are no longer being developed as manuals. The likes of Ferrari and Jaguar say it’s pointless, because their customers are simply not interested.

Well that’s the high end market for you, but what about the rest of us? It’s when Renault announces no manual option on their new Clio RS 200 Turbo or Vauxhall offers the option of dual-clutch auto for its latest Corsa, that the no-manual sentiment becomes a bit more mainstream.

Pros and Cons

So, which is better? Well, it depends what you’re looking for.

Speed: Acceleration in a manual is usually better than an automatic, so naturally a manual is the best bet for speed demons.

Fuel Economy: Automatics will control your flow of fuel optimally. This is why modern cars offer much better mileage than their older counterparts. So if fuel cost is a big concern of yours, you could save quite a packet by going automatic.

Ease: There is no doubt that automatic cars are simpler to drive, as you don’t have to keep changing gears. So if you’re not that confident on the road, or just getting started, an automatic could be the best option for you. It will free up your focus so you can concentrate on other things, like avoiding accidents.

Economy: It may surprise you to find out, that despite automatics offering better fuel economy, manuals offer better overall economy. Why? They are generally cheaper and require less repairs and maintenance.

Other side of the pond

Trends often trickle over from the USA to Britain, could that be the case with automatics? Just 5% of new cars sold over there are manual, a true nation of automatic fans! It could be because of their road infrastructure, which is much more ‘freeway’ based than ours. Time will tell… 


published: 20/01/2015 09:12:34

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