- Thanks goes to: Pietro De Grandi , @peter_mc_greats (https://unsplash.com/photos/k_BBTm1MQg0)

What's the future for the manual gearbox?

5w ago


Learning to drive for me was always going to be a manual car. I remember at the age of 7 sitting in a rotted out, old MGB GT in my grandad's garden. Bouncing up and down making the sound of screeching tyres and an engine working well into the red zone of it's imaginary limiter. As I took a breath, I'd grab the gear stick and slam it into another of the 4 gears in the dilapidated old gearbox to cross the line to win the F1 world championship!

I'm now 24 and I must say grabbing that gear stick and slamming it through, as I accelerate from the traffic lights, just feels so good to me. It connects me to the car and gives me a satisfaction of achievement those with two pedals will never understand... but for the next generation of car drivers, my future kids, what will they think?

The end is nigh

If you look at the USA it's already a closed case for the "stick shift", with stats showing in 2018 less than 3% of new USA cars rolled off the showroom floors with a manual gear box in them. Although America maybe the most dramatic for now, Europe is starting to crumble too. The amount of registered automatic cars in the UK public highways, went up by roughly 10%, between 2012 to 2017, and this trend looks set to continue and accelerate its dominance.

So what is killing it all?

Give the people what they want

Space, amongst other things. People now don't want a car, they want a luxury cabin within which they are comfortable and happy, a place of protection and style. The ability of a car to get you from A to B has sort of become second best, as long as it's economical and quiet, the ultimate decider is becoming what has the best atmosphere. This change in public opinion is why suddenly cars have an electric handbrake. A manual gearbox suffers similar drawbacks to the old traditional handbrake, it's just clumsy and taking up room.

A manual needs a large bit of space within the centre of the cabin for a gearbox tunnel with a stick jutting out. Whereas with an auto, all the space hogging mechanical bits are removed, confined to the engine bay, where they belong. Designers have more freedom to stylise the gear sticks, they also have the advantage of being able to place them in better locations to give the cabin a more minimal and spacious feel, or allowing for a bigger storage bin in the centre console, what ever floats your boat really.

The electric car is coming

Like it or not, the electric car is finally making headway and a manual gearbox in a car that is solely electric is as productive as pouring boiling water into a chocolate teapot.

Due to the electric car's emergence, the days of the manual are numbered as the more cars that use automatic, the better and cheaper auto gearboxes will become. Cheaper automatics will push the manual gearbox harder into a corner, and gone will be the argument of a manual being more convenient because it is cheaper.

With governments around the world discussing global warming and deciding the petrol car must ultimately die to save humanity, the electric cars will soon be stepping in as the replacement. The UK government has said they aim to be rid of all petrol/ diesel cars by 2040, so could it be in 21 years we have no more manual gearboxes at all?

Arriving to say goodbye

Ultimately the way things are moving in the car world, it looks like we are going to be saying good bye to the manual gearbox. Car guys will always find a way to love what they drive, however with the manual slowly thinning out like a man's hair from 1970 it's sad to have to let it go.

I guess my kids will be flipping a flappy paddle to beat Lewis Hamilton in the back garden to win the F1 world championship. They may still get to see the time before, where driving was at first a challenge to get the car moving, but for them, manuals will probably be part of a slow old people's car, which they see as pointless and dare I say "uncool".

The future is full of surprises, and maybe there will be a way for the manual to hold on, but in the UK anyway we have 21 years to enjoy them until they reach their sell-by date.