Change of era: manual gearboxes are no longer popular. Automatic cars now outsell more traditional vehicles.
Purists, those for whom driving is a pleasure may not like it. Those for whom the car is a means of transport like any other andwho favor tranquility have already taken the plunge anyway. Most likely. The good old manual gearbox is in agony. The automatic prepares for his triumph. It was inevitable. France is one of the rare exceptions in the field, it could not remain so. More automatic cars are now sold than manual transmission vehicles. 54% compared to 46 in 2021. By 2030, we will be 80% automatic.
The automatic, a must
As often when it comes to cars, the choice of the user is secondary, and even neglected. Some drivers switch to automatic for taste. Not the majority. The others do it simply because new manual cars are becoming extremely rare at dealerships. Volkswagen, to take the most blatant example, is already announcing that the German brand will manufacture its last automatic gearbox before 2030. And thinking that it is enough to buy another brand is illusory. Everyone is going in the same direction.
The cultural exception
It’s true, our neighbors look at us with a certain condescension (note, we’re used to it) when they see us driving with a good old manual gearbox. Principally the Swiss, the British and the Scandinavians. And the Germans of course. As for Americans, the manual gearbox is for them an exotic, outdated and “so French” concept.. For those who know of its existence. France is more conservative and went automatic more recently. In 2010, automatics accounted for only 8.9% of the market. 35% in 2019 and therefore more than half 2 years later. Of course, we are only talking about new vehicles.
It’s true, automatic transmissions have evolved. And in a good way. The oldest among us remember the automatics of the 80s. it felt more like driving a bus than a sedan. Slow and soft changes in speed, monotony of driving. And lack of habit. Who hasn’t braked with the left foot the first time, believing, by reflex, to disengage? Today, the double clutch, the torque converter or the continuous variation make the automatics less sluggish. And times are changing
Meanwhile, France has also become aware of the vital issue of ecology. And even if on the front, everyone says they are “green”, eco-driving is not the strong point of the French driver. Late and abrupt diet changespoorly controlled braking, as much as the downshift that goes with it, manual driving pollutes. More than automatic when it comes to CO2 emissions. And especially, they are less greedy. In this period of continuously rising prices at the pump, it matters
The electrical phenomenon
But the main reason for the coup d’etat of the automatic gearbox is of course the advent and the seizure of power by the electric car. Try to find an electric manual gearbox, good luck. It existed, from the very beginning. The author of these lines remembers driving one in the early 2000s. But the concept fizzled out. All electric cars are automatic, including entry-level ones. And since by 2035, 100% of cars will be electric, the equation is quite simple.
Even the sports
A priori, it is legitimate to think that the hardest to convince will be sports car drivers. Received idea. Wrong idea. European manufacturers have been offering automatics on an increasingly large scale for 25 years, and sports cars are following suit. Like Volkswagen, Aston Martin has planned to stop offering manual gearboxes by 2030. The phenomenon does not yet affect racing cars, but we must be honest, it would not concern many people.
Should it be learning to drive an automatic? Probably not. Accompanied driving on an automatic condemns the young neophyte to pass a license that will not allow him to drive a manual. Except to follow a costly additional training. However, if the automatics are majority on the new car market, they are still far from being so on the second-hand market. Three times more used cars were sold than new ones in 2021 and the oldest represent a quarter of the market. Moreover, when you know how to drive with a manual gearbox, you know how to drive an automatic. The opposite is not true.
Towards a lowering of the license age?
In the United States, the minimum age to obtain a license is 16 years old.. In particular because of the total absence of manual gearboxes and therefore greater ease of learning and driving. In France, it was discussed. In 2017, LREM MP Françoise Dumas submitted a report to this effect to then Prime Minister Edouard Philippe. She advocated lowering the eligibility age to 17only valid in France and subject to a certain number of hours of automatic accompanied driving. The report remained a dead letter. At the time, vending machines were still marginal, and with the COVID19 pandemic, all reforms have been stalled.
Grandpa changed sides
You have to live with the times. In the 1980s, automatics were viewed with some disdain as old cars. 20 years later, young urbanites have taken hold of the phenomenon. By obligation, as we said, but also by taste. The car is no longer really fashionable, so you might as well simplify your life. Especially since the main obstacle, the price, is disappearing. Electric cars will make thermal cars disappear. Then yes, they will be more expensive to buy. But again, since we won’t have a choice, we might as well get started right away.
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