Will EVs Spell the Death of Manual Transmissions?
With each passing year the number of cars available in the U.S. with manual transmissions isn’t getting any higher. Europe has certainly hung on to them in larger numbers for a longer time, thanks to the prevalence of hatchbacks until the crossover craze began to grip the continent. But in the U.S. they have mostly survived almost solely in sports cars, even though until the early 2000s you could get such a thing like a manual BMW X5.
But we suspect the last era of commonplace cars with manual transmissions is already behind us, even large parts of the U.S. itself had adhered to the automatic religion and helped spread its gospel around the world. The days of a variety Japanese sports cars and captive imports, as well as base-spec Saturns with manual transmissions, already seem like artifacts from another time even though their presence hasn’t completely faded from the roads.
The 1990s also seem like the last time that manual transmissions were prevalent in small and cheap commuter cars, and when getting a high school or college car with a manual was not in itself unusual. The days of small pickups with manual transmissions have also largely been left in that blessed decade. So learning to drive a manual appears to have become much more of a niche skill than it used to be 25 years ago, even though it might not seem all that distant.
After all, there was email 25 years ago, so how dated can that time seem after all?
The manual transmissions’ U.S. decline had certainly been happening independently from the debut of EVs and hybrids. But electric and electrified vehicles will spell the end of manual transmissions in new vehicles, as more automakers start to go electric, and as more countries announce bans on gas and diesel vehicles, at least in EV enthusiast circles. The future demise of manual transmissions is believed to be tied to the demise of internal combustion engines, at least to some.
But one thing we have to wonder about is whether the spread of EVs will occur uniformly throughout the world in this century, or whether vehicles with internal combustion engines will persist far longer in some parts of the world than in others. After all, this is something automakers have to plan for as well. Tesla can afford to make just electric cars, but Toyota cannot because it has a presence in just about every country, not just the wealthy ones.
For instance, it’s easy and fashionable to talk about EVs replacing gas and diesel cars in wealthy countries like Norway or South Korea, but it’s quite another to consider EVs in countries in Central Asia or South America.
So as much as some automakers might plan for the demise of gas and diesel cars in the next 15 to 20 years, a need for vehicles in less developed parts of the world with sparse road networks is not going to go away, especially ones where oil is still plentiful. Central Asia, Africa, South and Central America, the eastern part of Russia and the Indian sub-continent are all places where EVs have seen little penetration, even as western European cities race ahead of each other to ban internal combustion engines.
For instance, we don’t foresee Mongolia developing an EV charging network anytime soon that will allow electric cars to traverse its reaches outside of its capital, as they do now. Likewise, some automakers will still have to produce new cars for other hard-to-reach parts of the world that cannot be easily electrified with a network of charging stations. Perhaps this is why a several major Japanese automakers are still on the fence about electric cars: EVs are a first-world luxury at the moment, and bringing EV chargers to distant villages in countries that barely have a road network will take time, to put it mildly.
Is this what will keep manual transmissions alive past the optimistic bans on internal combustion vehicles that have been announced by a number of cities and states?
Let us know in the comments below.
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