The End of Manual Transmission

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I drive with stick shift. Sometimes it’s a pain. Clutching and shifting in bumper-to-bumper traffic is exhausting. My wife cannot drive my car, so transportation options are limited. You can’t hold a cold, delicious slushy in one hand when you’re behind the wheel. At least not safe. But despite the inconvenience, I love manual transmissions.i love the feeling of being me operating My car as well as driving. That’s why I’ve been driving stick shift for the last 20 years.

The streak may end soon. When the time comes to replace your current car, you probably won’t get another one like it. In 2000, more than 15% of his new and used cars sold by car retailer CarMax came with stick shift. By 2020, that figure had dropped to 2.4%, he said. Of the hundreds of new car models sold in the US this year, only about 30 will be available with manual transmissions. Electric cars, which now make up more than 5% of his car sales, don’t even have gearboxes. There are rumors that Mercedes-Benz plans to phase out manuals entirely by the end of next year worldwide, in a decision driven in part by electrification. Volkswagen is said to be out on its own by 2030, and other brands are sure to follow suit. Stick Shift has long been a niche market in the US, but it will soon die out.

I can’t say I wasn’t warned. For years, the decline of sticks has been publicly lamented. car and driver launched a “Save the Manuals” campaign in 2010, claiming that drivers who “learned the whole car” would enjoy driving more and drive better.a #SaveTheManual Followed by hashtags. Shifting gears yourself isn’t just a source of pleasure or a way to hone your driving skills. Manual cars are less likely to be stolen if fewer people know how to drive. It’s cheaper to buy (at least it used to be) and used to be cheaper to operate and maintain. . It also makes it easier to use the stick for engine braking, which means less wear and tear and makes descents easier and safer.

But the main attraction of a manual transmission comes from the feeling it gives the driver. It is the feeling that you are in control, whether real or imaginary. According to business his consultant-turned-motorcycle-repairer-and-best-selling author Matthew Crawford, paying attention to that feeling isn’t just a whim. Humans develop tools to assist their mobility, such as domesticated horses and carriages, bicycles and cars, and turn their attention to those tools. The driver becomes one with the machine. In his 2020 book, why we drive, Crawford claims the device will be a prosthetic limb. The rider merges with the horse. To move the tools is to move yourself.

Crawford argues that this cognitive enhancement is only possible if we can interpret the components of the tool we are manipulating. Just as a rider has to feel the gait of a horse, the driver has to know the torque of the engine. But modern automotive technology tends to inhibit that feeling. Power steering, electronic fuel injection, an anti-lock braking system, and of course automatic His transmission interferes with the “natural link between action and perception,” writes Crawford. They impede the operator’s ability to interpret the vehicle’s state and capacity through a healthy feedback loop of action and information. To illustrate the point, he tells the story of test driving his 400-horsepower Audi RS3 with all the options, including a paddle-shift automatic transmission. He was powerful and capable, but “he couldn’t connect with the car,” he says. This description is common among gearheads and is a way of expressing that the human operator and the machine are out of sync.

Stick Shift is now a surrogate object for that loss. When manual transmissions were common, the driver had to constantly touch the shifter in conjunction with the clutch while operating the vehicle. Passengers saw this action and made it meaningful to shift gears. It represented the charm of the road, both good and bad, standing in place of human beings in control of big, hot, and dangerous machines screaming down the pavement. The imminent demise of manual transmissions is foreseen not (simply) because car shifting is fun and sensual, but because gearshifting is a powerful cultural symbol of the human body working in harmony with the engineering world (or so it seems). was).

Crawford admits he might connect with Audi if he drives long enough. But even knowing this, “the car left me cold,” he writes. One reason, he says, is that the coarse feedback you get when driving a fully electronic car can be too subtle or felt to the brutish human mind. A car is, in a way, that too good. Human understanding slides off the surface like ice falling from a hot bonnet.

The separation of humans from driving machinery will accelerate in the years to come. If automatic transmissions have made stick shift a monument to out of control, self-driving (self-driving) cars are aiming to do the same for steering wheels. At that point, the loss may be so complete that you may feel less alienated. Car passengers can move on to other things because the appearance of the car being a prosthetic is removed. Like people on the train, you might read a book, take a nap, or open an Excel spreadsheet.

However, fully self-driving cars may never become widespread. In many cases Self-driving cars may be a long way off. In the meantime, the automotive industry will take control of drivers in slow, hard steps, much like other industries are doing for other appliances, devices and services. You can now use sensors to flush toilets and operate sinks instead of using your hands. Web and product searches will show results that the third party wants you to see, rather than the results that best fit your request. Maps, now digitized, show key points rather than raw information. Travelers rely on the apps that host these maps to tell them where to go and how to get there. Customer service agents follow scripts to solve problems, doctors follow automated diagnostic templates, and TV streaming platforms calculate what shows to watch next.

People lamented the decline of stick shift for years before the “Save the Manuals” campaign (and hashtags and merchandise) took off. But it may not be a coincidence that a formal holy war began when computing overtook culture and adapted people’s lives to the needs of technology companies and data aggregators. Around that time, all the aforementioned apps and services (and many others) became popular.

Manual transmissions, though pushed to their limits in the smartphone age, remain vestiges of direct mechanical control. As the driver changes speed, it can literally engage gears to make the driver’s intentions fruitful with satisfying action. Even if your hand slips and your gear wears out, the device still speaks intelligibly.

To mourn the demise of manual transmissions is to celebrate more than shifting gears. When the manual is gone, there’s very little about driving that hasn’t been lost yet. But we are going to lose something bigger and more important. felt operating. Even if you don’t have a stick, or know how to operate a stick, the mere presence of a stick makes more embodied technology possible, even once common, and human beings. It shows that machines can really communicate. A stick shift is a form of hope, but one that is quickly left out.

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