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October 2008 Trail Head - Goodbye Manual Transmission

Posted in Features on October 1, 2008
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Kiss your manual transmission goodbye. I know what you're thinking, but this time it's not the egghead engineers and corporate bean counters. You need to thank all the pantywaists who can't operate a clutch or figure out what gear they need to be in. For decades these people have been busy checking the auto tranny option box when they purchase a new vehicle. Today the take rate of the automatic is much higher than that of the manual transmission in many cases. But it gets worse. Currently, the automobile manufacturers are better able to manage engine emissions and drivetrain longevity with computer-controlled automatic transmissions. And in case you haven't heard of the up-and-coming hippie-happy powertrains, the only tranny available in a fuel-saving hybrid vehicle is an automatic. So with the automatic as the seemingly most popular future tranny with the public, the automobile manufacturers, and ultimately the Federal Government and its emission standards, which tranny do you think will get the axe? That's right, your manual tranny is on the chopping block and headed for extinction. And if electric vehicles become the norm, you can pretty much forget about having any transmission at all.

It's already started at Ford and GM. You can't even get an '08 GM pickup with a manual tranny and rumor is that the '09 Ford Super Duty diesel trucks will no longer be available with the standard manual tranny. How long till this floats over to the other Ford trucks and eventually to other brands and vehicles, including Jeep?

Ultimately, through technology we have successfully made the typical American a fantastically uneducated and amazingly crappy driver. It may have started many years ago with the introduction of the automatic transmission, but there was no way to simply stop it there. Among other things, we accepted the launch of rear-wheel ABS, where a computer decided if you were pushing the brake pedal too hard for the rear tires to keep traction. Most of the time these early systems either didn't work all that great or they didn't affect off-road performance enough to matter. However, in time, two-wheel ABS morphed into four-wheel ABS. And to an experienced driver, four-wheel ABS is downright dangerous in sand and mud. In the end, if you haven't learned how to modulate the brakes of your vehicle to keep from skidding on- or off-road, you shouldn't be behind the wheel of an automobile.

Four-wheel ABS provided the groundwork necessary for the next generation of dumb driver technology. Without independent wheel sensors, the more complex stability and traction control systems could not exist. Admittedly, these systems can do wonders for brain-dead drivers on slick road surfaces, but again, they can make off-road situations difficult and dangerous.

The latest incarnation of safety device shoved down the 4x4 enthusiasts' throats is the tire air pressure monitoring system which became mandatory for all '08 models. For the average knuckle-dragger who never checks the tire pressure, it's a godsend. But if you upgrade your vehicle with larger flotation-size tires that don't require as much psi as the stock tires or you air down for off-road use, it results in an annoying illuminated warning on the dash. No biggie, right? How long before this infuriating little feature is integrated into the stability control system? Can you imagine Mr. Computer taking over the throttle and brakes or simply shutting the vehicle down entirely to keep you from blowing a tire in a situation that could never result in such a catastrophe?

I'm a firm believer in manual transmissions and taking responsibility for yourself. I'm not sure where everyone else went wrong, but I think we should blame the Sturtevant brothers for thinking we needed something other than a clutch and shift lever.

-John Cappa

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