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Manual Gearboxes - Are we living in the end of times?

Snapshot: Automatic gearboxes are superior to traditional manual gearboxes, simply because of the convenience that they provide. Traditional manual gearboxes are falling out of favor is many parts of the world.

A mainstream fully self-driving car (that would not even have a steering wheel for the drivers) would not be here anytime soon, at least not until the end of this decade. There would certainly be a difference in opinion when it comes to adoption of these cars. They would certainly be more safe and convenient but at the same time, they would provide all of this at the expense of "the sheer joy of driving". However, interest in manual gearboxes is already waning and as a result, sales of cars equipped with these are steadily declining. In fact, the world renowned sports car manufacturer, Ferrari, no longer provides a manual gearbox in any of their cars, not even as an option! 

Furthermore, the AMT technology, which is comparatively inexpensive, has gained a lot of traction lately and made automatic gearboxes even more mainstream even in an entry-level car.  So are we really living in the end of times? Will manual gearboxes be a thing of the past in a few years from now?

For those who are not familiar with automatics should know that they are a lot more convenient to drive and have ceased being fuel-guzzling alternatives to manuals since long time. In fact, even the least expensive variation – AMT (Automated Manual Transmission) would offer you mileage at par with their manuals counterparts. However, manuals have no competition when it comes to driver engagement and they remain the default choice of petrol heads who want nothing less.

While driving a car with stick-shift manual gearbox can be considered as an art, since it requires a well-trained left foot for clutch operation that requires having a perfect operational balance with the accelerator as well as the brake pedal. The only downside is that in an event of start-stop traffic you risk stalling the engine in case of a manual gearbox.

Then there are companies who are following a different approach and are trying to make manuals somewhat easier to drive. The ‘stall recovery’ feature from manufacturers like Ford and Porsche works in conjunction with automatic start/stop feature and lets you restart the engine even while in gear. To do this, the driver just needs to depress the clutch pedal to restart the engine. This not only makes it somewhat more convenient in comparison to the conventional manual gearbox, but also helps save some embarrassment.

Automatic gearboxes that use dual clutch transmissions are precise and take lesser time to shift gears than what a driver would otherwise take with a normal stick shift manual. In that sense, they are par excellence in comparison to other automatic gearbox options, like CVTs and AMTs. The gear shift takes place in a matter of milliseconds (faster than even the best driver could do with a manual gearbox) and this helps attain speeds in a way that remains nonpareil. Even the most well-trained and enthusiastic driver would agree that they cannot tap the full performance of the car with a stick-shift manual gearbox.

An automatic gearbox for certain people, in some sense, is indeed a trade off worth having. Therefore, it’s not a surprise that they are gaining popularity. Manufacturers who have taken notice of this trend have started to equip even the entry-level cars with AMTs. Tata Nano and Alto K10 are perhaps the best examples of these. If the sales of cars with manual transmission further decline in the future and to an extent that it’s no longer feasible to develop manual gearboxes, it would only encourage manufacturers to take the manual transmissions off the sales chart completely and cut the R&D cost even further.

However, it’s still pretty early to say if a manual gearbox will indeed become redundant since it still makes a large part of entry-level and even high-end car sales in India. The manual gearboxes are already extinct in Ferraris and Lamborghinis for a simple reason that it robs the car of its performance and almost no buyer in this segment really cares about it. While the AMTs are affordable and a perfect alternative to expensive automatic gearboxes in case of entry-level cars, their image is still like that of traditional automatics that used to be fuel guzzling and expensive to maintain. However, as they gain more acceptance, a trend similar to that in other parts of the world might follow in India and we might see an extinction in our lifetime. 

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