This is a new debate that is quietly raging. I say raging because most car enthusiasts say they strongly prefer to row their own gears yet exotic car sales show just the opposite. Paddle shifted transmission sales are approaching 100% for Ferrari and Lamborghini. A lot of the special Ferrari models are only offered in F1, like the 430 Scuderia, 360 Challenge Stradale and Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera. Isn’t it an oddity that enthusiasts vocally say they love their manual transmissions yet Ferrari and Lamborghini sales are nearly 95% F1 transmissions?
Then, who is buying all these exotic cars with F1 transmissions if the car enthusiasts declare they want manual transmissions? And why should a manufacturer bother offering a manual transmission on a limited run of, say, 750 cars if the manual transmission take rate is only 5%? Do they really want to deal with the manufacturing complexity to sell a paltry 37 cars with a manual when they can simplify their process dramatically by standardizing the F1 transmission and at the same time charging a hefty premium for it?
And there in lies the answer to our conundrum. The missing link, I believe, is that the manufacturers prefer to sell F1 transmissions and thus encourage the dealers, who are highly persuasive individuals and, by the way, highly incentivized to sell $10,000 paddle shift transmissions. This means the true preference of the car enthusiast is being ignored and rolled over. The marketing folks then point to the sales results that no one wants a low tech manual transmission to validate their decision to further popularize and institutionalize the F1 transmission.
At Club Sportiva, I interface with hundreds of Members and thousands of car enthusiasts on an annual basis. In my conversations, I rarely hear enthusiasts glowing about the F1 transmissions in a manner that explains the preponderance of its sales figures. Sure, the F1 system is cool and it grows on you as you use it and it downs shifts in a heavenly fashion every time you pull the down shift paddle as the throttle blips to match the revs, but is it naturally selling at a 95% take rate at a significant price premium? Or is this a case of influence through the power of suggestion at the dealer level?
I think the dealers are over-hyping the F1 transmissions by focusing their clients on the ease of shifting if they will drive occasionally or only plan to drive a few times a year on a track. The dealers are also focusing on the resale value of the car if the client doesn’t want to be selling a car with a plebeian manual transmission when everyone else wants an F1. And they focus on the prestigious tie in with F1 racing heritage, where the F1 transmission is obviously derived. This is all fine and good, but F1 paddle shifters are being pushed on enthusiasts and if it continues, the standard manual transmission will literally quickly disappear.
Keep in mind that already in the U.S., traditional automatic transmissions dominate mass market cars at roughly 90% of all cars produced. Now, we are witnessing the remaining small number of manual transmissions sold are rapidly migrating the way of a semi-automatic shifting method. Manufacturers can’t justify the manufacturing and logistics complexity if take rates are too low. The manual transmission may very likely go the way of the dinosaur within the next few years.
Is this really happening? Could the manual transmission be going silently extinct before our very eyes? Are the dealers really using persuasion to talk exotic car owners into higher cost, high tech F1 shifters? Will there be a revival of manual transmissions?
I vote to keep buying manual transmissions before it is too late! What is your input?