Rise of Semi-automatics = Death of Manuals?

     With the increase of semi-automatics these days from almost every company in every market, it seems there can be only room for two transmissions in the auto industry.  It’s been the manuals on one side of the fence and the automatics on the other for a long time now (since I’m so young, it obviously goes further back than I can remember) with distinct advantages and disadvantages for both.  Before the introduction of the semi-automatic, it seemed like there would never be a clear winner in the auto vs stick shift debate since both sides had their uses.

     Those who weren’t wild about driving would pick the automatic transmission for its ease of use and simplicity for the driver.  The manual however, gave the driver much more control of his/her car, and the feeling of really “driving” your car.  Auto enthusiasts swore by their stick shifts and would rather die than ever drive, let alone own an automatic, and would look down upon those who did.  There would never be so many auto enthusiasts that the automatic transmission would become defunct, but nor would their numbers dwindle so much that the manual transmission would die out either.  So at the time it seemed lik both could co-exist in harmony and both sides could have their pie and eat it.  But those days seem to be coming to an end.

     Semi-automatics these days are the new kids on the block, and as auto enthusiasts, we’re not exactly sure how to react.  And it’s us auto enthusiasts who’re scared of the coming storm known as the semi-automatic transmissions.  Those who swear by the stick shift still do so, but now also see the clear advantage of a paddle-shift transmission and its lightning quick shifting.  The semi-automatic seem to offer the best of both worlds.  When the driver wants to, he/she can engage the automatic drive function, and putter around town without the need to use a clutch and have to shift.  But when the racing helmet is donned, and the paddle shifter is selected, the gear changes are faster than any human can ever manage on a stick shift.  And drivers can’t ignore that.  On a track, function will always beat out form.

     And thus, we’re understandably scared.  The whole point of our manual transmission being faster than an automatic is now moot.  The racing world has something faster now.  So now the question becomes, “Will our precious third pedal becomes extinct?” and “Can there be a third transmission in the auto industry?”

     Personally, I think the more the better.  The more ideas and innovations, the better.  But I also don’t want the stick shift to die out.  An upshift using a clutch and stick shift will always feel different from the flick of a paddle.  But a fun car doesn’t always equal a fast car.  We can have a fun car without being fast.  And vice-versa.  I think that is a point where many people go wrong.  Many people believe that the faster the car, the more fun it is to drive, but not always so.

     So are manuals only for “fun” now while semi-automatics are reserved only for the fast?  I don’t know the sales figures, but how many people buy cars for fun?  How many for speed?  And how many prefer one over the other? I prefer a fun car over a fast one, but car sales will be the ultimate deciding factor.  It won’t be for a long time until manuals truly die out, but for now there’s definately a disturbance among the community.

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