Automobile

Volkswagen Group begins wind-down of manual transmissions

The beginning of the end for manual transmissions commenced well more than a decade ago; the thinning of the row-your-own herd had gotten so bad by 2010 that Car and Driver kicked off its Save the Manuals campaign in July of that year. Now, Auto Motor und Sport reports (translated) reports that Volkswagen will start making a strong retreat from manuals in two years. AMS says the third-generation Tiguan expected in 2023 will not be offered with a manual in any model, and the new Passat lineup arriving that same year will also bypass the manual option. As Volkswagen moves toward its goal of deriving 70% of sales from electric vehicles by 2030, and selling an entirely EV range in Europe by 2035, jettisoning the manual will save development costs. And in case you haven’t heard, VW will want all the money it can get, because developing EVs is stupefyingly expensive.

The AMS article only mentions the Volkswagen brand, and specifies the European, U.S., and Chinese markets, but it’s safe to assume this will be a group-wide move. Group sub-brands Seat and Skoda sell remade Volkswagens, so turning off the standard gearbox tap will leave them dry as well. Manual transmissions are set up to work with internal combustion engines, and Audi’s already said it’s ceased developing new internal combustion engines. Lamborghini, Bentley, and Bugatti aren’t in the manual transmission business. That leaves commercial vehicles and the Man and Scania heavy trucks. Big rigs are already switching to automatic gearboxes, and with an I.D. Buzz cargo van coming, even the white work van will be led the way of the passenger car herd. For those of us who still love shifting by hand, it seems that Porsche, like Obi Wan, will be our only hope.

On the other side of the world, Australian outlet Drive said its sources “suggest the timeline laid out in the [AMS] article is accurate,” with a VW spokesperson in Australia adding, “We’re quite advanced on this front – here, manuals make up in the low single digits as a percentage of total sales.” According to Edmunds, out of 327 vehicle models sold in the U.S. last year, 41 offered manual transmissions, or 13%. The actual take rate is much lower; CarMax, the nation’s largest used car dealer, said last year its manual sales were only 2.4% of total sales. In 2019, Toyota said just 1% of Corolla buyers opted for a manual, while 33% of BRZ buyers did the same. That BRZ figure might seem redeeming, but considering the BRZ sold 3,398 units in 2019 in the U.S. compared to 222,125 Corollas, the math shows why manual transmission drivers will soon be living in caves lit by torches. 

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