View Poll Results: Do you prefer an automatic transmission or the stick shift? Tell us why.
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I prefer a stick shift
I prefer an automatic
Automatic or Manual Transmission?
Monday, September 13, 2004
More fans of stick shift switch gears
Only 6 percent of all autos will be built with a clutch by 2012
By Eric Mayne / The Detroit News
The stick shift — an automotive mainstay since the invention of the “horseless carriage” — is slowly going the way of the tailfin and carburetor.
Thanks to technological advances and drivers looking for an easier way to navigate congested roadways, the old standard manual transmission doesn’t come standard much anymore.
“One more generation and you’ll probably have people who have absolutely no idea what a three-pedal car does,” said Bill Visnic, senior technical editor of Ward’s AutoWorld, an automotive trade magazine.
By 2012, just 6 percent of all vehicles sold in the North American market will have manual transmissions, according to a forecast by Germany’s ZF Industries, the world’s largest independent transmission maker.
In 2002, 10 percent of vehicles sold in the United States and Canada were equipped with manual gearboxes.
The trend is also occurring in European markets, where manual transmissions are losing ground to automatics. In the United Kingdom, automatic transmission installations are on pace to reach 15 percent of all models, up from 13.5 percent five years ago, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.
Even heavy-duty and commercial trucks are making the switch. Over an eight-year span beginning in 1996, the popularity of automatic transmissions among heavy trucks rose from 5 percent to 18 percent, reports show.
Motoring purists lament the change, claiming car and motorist are only connected when the driver is shifting gears.
But for some, the fun of operating slick new automatic transmissions — some of which enable drivers to shift without a clutch — now rival the old standard gearbox. Increased traffic congestion has reduced the manual experience to drudgery for others.
Edmund Handwerker, a 19-year-old student in New York, has a 1996 Mazda Miata with an automatic transmission. “Everyone asks, ‘How come you don’t get a manual? A Miata should be manual.’ I get that from everyone,” said Handwerker. “I live in Brooklyn and I’m in stop-and-go traffic all the time.”
In a car equipped with a manual transmission, gridlock can mean pushing and releasing a clutch pedal over and over again. And since some pedals are stiffer than others, driving can be physically exhausting. And talking on a cell phone and sipping coffee — favorite pastimes of today’s drivers — is much easier without worrying about shifting gears.
Shifting is not missed
Because Ted Marshall drives 30,000 miles a year in his job selling heating and cooling equipment for K.L. McCoy in Detroit, he made sure his 2004 Pontiac GTO had an automatic transmission. And he doesn’t miss the sporty feeling associated with shifting.
“This car responds anyway — zero to 60 in 5.3 seconds,” said the 41-year-old Grosse Pointe Park resident. Friends who prefer manual transmissions stll razz him.
“They all have Porsches and BMWs,” he said. “As a daily driver, (the GTO) is a much more comfortable car.”
Reversing a decades-old industry marketing equation, Pontiac designated automatic transmission as standard equipment on the GTO. The 6-speed manual, which it shares with the Chevrolet Corvette, is a $695 option.
If manual transmissions become scarce, most dealers won’t grieve.
“We used to have the manual trans available on the Grand Am,” said Ed McDade, sales manager at Ray Laethem Pontiac Buick GMC in Detroit. “When I stocked them, they’d just sit here.
“In the past, the small economical cars with a stick would be the way to go because they were even cheaper. It’s not the case any more.”
Skill is not learned
As automatic transmissions proliferated in the last half-century, fewer and fewer people learned the time-honored skill of coordinating clutch, shifter and throttle, McDade said. And the inability to drive a stick seems to know no boundaries.
Jason Vines, vice president of communications for DaimlerChrysler AG, recalls accommodating a test drive request from an automotive writer from a national publication. The request was for a Dodge Viper.
“We had it delivered and the journalist goes, This is a stick! I can’t drive a stick!’” Vines said, noting Dodge doesn’t offer the Viper any other way.
And pity Roy P. Bougie of Blaine, Minn. He’s doing 10 years for a 2000 carjacking that failed because he couldn’t drive the vehicle he’d stolen.
“The kinds of cars that are jacked tend to be status vehicles,” said Richard Wright, University of Missouri-St. Louis criminology professor. “It’s clear, though, that manual transmissions are not preferred because people can’t drive them.”
Conversely, having the skill can bring rewards.
Al Kammerer, executive director of Ford Motor Co.’s sport utility and body-on-frame vehicles, who will soon take over product development for British brands Jaguar and Land Rover, insisted that his daughter learn to operate a manual transmission.
“She called me up one day and said, ‘Thank you, Dad.’” Kammerer recalled recently. “I said, ‘For what?’ What had happened was, there were two interns working for this publishing house. They had a photo shoot and there was one pool vehicle. It was a manual. The other intern couldn’t drive it, so she got the assignment.”
New technologies simplify
Six-speed automatics and continuously variable transmissions are among the new technologies replacing manuals. Both offer varying degrees of sporty performance and fuel efficiency, but the former can be configured to shift at the flick of a stick.
“It basically allows you to manually override the transmission,” said Paul Olexa, general sales manager at ZF Industries in Northville.
Software prevents the driver from pushing the vehicle beyond its limits.
“If you’re at the rev limit, it will take you to the next gear,” Olexa said.
This, however, can foster a point-and-shoot approach to driving that worries Randy Bleicher, a racing instructor and vice president of Arizona-based ProFormance Driving Events.
“It takes away the true essence of driving,” Bleicher said. “There used to be a skill to driving, the coordination of the feet and hands together. Now, people can go fast without thinking about what they’re doing.”
A driver’s evolution should be gradual, he added, recalling a client’s insistence that he be allowed to drive his Ferrari on ProFormance’s track. The 360 Modena was equipped with paddle shifter and no clutch.
“He went through the fence backwards,” Bleicher recalled.
You can reach Eric Mayne at (313) 222-2443 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
I have had two C5's. One was an automatic, one was a manual. I like the manual because I can choose the gear that I am in. They just sound cooler anyway. I have trouble associating performance with an automatic. The new automatic transmissions are better in some ways. But I like the idea that I have more car control with a stick.
My girlfriend would drive the automatic, but she won't drive the stick. She doesn't even like to ride in it because she gets motion sick
Had a C4 with an auto, have a C5 with a 6 speed. I like the auto better. Under the best of conditions the performance differance between the 2 is marginal.
In other cars the stick makes way more of a differance, but with the power of most Corvettes its slight at best. Stop light drag racing, track racing or twisty back road I will take the automatic.
This reminds me, I need to practice launches with my 99 before i head to Raceway Park for that time slip. Getting that 13.4 in 95 was just a matter of stab and steer.
All of my vehicles are automatics including the 00 & the 74. I never learned how to drive a stick & have driven one once. The changing of gears always seemed like a PITA to me. I've had friends offer to teach me but I've never been interested.
Stick or Auto
For most of my cars auto is the way to go. In town it is such a blessing. Having played in the snow most of my life I also feel that in marginal traction conditions that an auto is an advantage, much smoother power aplication from a dead stop.
That being said my 67 is a 4 speed, the 92 is an auto and I wouldn't have a C2 with an auto in it. Too much fun at play time. The 92 is such a fine long legged cross country machine with all the creature comforts a stick would just be in the way.
An amusing story is that my cousin and her husband have a business and when they bought a new truck she had to go get it because none of the employees could drive a stick!
All my cars are stick - 2 Vettes and a CTS-V. Wouldn't have it anyother way. To me, shifting the gears adds to the pleasure of driving. It's harder but more rewarding when you get it right. About the only time I'd really want an automatic is if it was going to be a drag car first and last, but that's not me.
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Gotta have a stick
With my first Corvette, a '96, I gave in and bought the automatic because everyone told me that with the amount of low end torque the car has, it doesn't need a manual. Well being a true driver, I didn't believe them, but the price was right and the car had everything else I wanted. So I sacrificed the one option I wanted for the rest of the options I wanted. BIG MISTAKE. I had the car a week and was already looking for something else. I enjoyed the car and it was fun, but come on... it was not a driver's car. Point and shoot is not my game. When I drive for fun, I find a twisty back road that REQUIRES alot of shifting. It's about being part of the experience, not just along for the ride. I traded the '96 in for the Boxster and never looked back. Last week when it was time for a new car again, the dealer kept showing me cars with automatics after I repeatedly told him that was one option I would not sacrifice again. Play with the colors, play with every other option, but if it isn't a stick, you're wasting my time. There was a beautful Precision Red C6 on the showroom and I wouldn't even get in it because it was an auto. Instead I looked at the odly colored (Sunset Orange), and bottom end, no option C6 instead and was more impressed.
On another note, one of my best friends never learned how to drive a stick. She was always on my case about complaining about my '96 being an automatic and I wouldn't even look at another car with one. In addition, she HATED to drive. I kept trying to tell her that it was because of the car she was driving and to learn how to drive a stick and get a fun car with one. She eventually decided to try my theory and bought a Miata, with a stick, that she couldn't drive. Her husband had to drive it home. Then she had to take his car to work for the next week while he drove the Miata until I had an evening to teach her (he tried, but has no patience). Since then, she has never looked back and LOVES to drive now. With her, that says ALOT!
Since l only live less then 10 miles away from Raceway Park, let me know when you plan to go there so l can team up with you.
Originally Posted by kingman
I am planning to go on October 9th for the Corvette Challenge. Unless I fry my clutch doing practice launches.
both our vettes are autos .the stop & go traffic through town is terrible.
i think if i lived out of town i would have prefered a stick.
I prefer an automatically shifted manual. Lacking that, as the Corvette does, I prefer an automatic.
Let us hope that the Corvette engineering group can provide us with an automatically shifted manual. These 'paddle shift' manuals are far superior to old 'row-row-row the boat' shifters, and offer peformance increases over them that mirror the old hydraulic / manual arguments.
However, lacking such good new technology, I still prefer the new generation A4 because of ease of operation. Not having driven the latest version C6 A4, I can't judge its 'computer controlled' performance, but I am happy with my 2000 A4 with the 3.15 gears.
Chevy's change to offer the Z51 package with both transmissions tells you where they are putting their money.
My first Vette, a Red '91 Coupe, was automatic. My Z06- obviously- is manual. I was initially a bit nervous about getting back into a stick shift after not having driven one in a long, long time. But you originally learned to drive on a stick, its a skill you don't forget.
Now I've gotten to the point where I couldn't see myself driving a Vette that didn't have stick shift! It's just more fun, working through the gears.
I prefer stick, but I have an auto!
I have an auto right now, but the next vette I get will be a stick. That way I can have both .
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