Aim for the bend, brake briefly, turn in, step on the clutch pedal, quickly shift down a gear (or even two gears) – and then drive out of the bend at full speed: driving a car should be fun. For decades, car manufacturers developed their models according to this principle: three pedals, a steering wheel and a gear stick – these were the indispensable links between man and machine.
But this is likely to be the end of the line in the foreseeable future: mercedes and volkswagen have already announced that they will be withdrawing manual transmissions from their product ranges. Other brands will follow. This means that one of the most important interfaces in the human-machine structure is being sacrificed to technological change. Because the driver uses the transmission to determine when to upshift and when to downshift, and to what extent the rev band is exploited. Accelerating, decelerating, accelerating and braking – all this was and is inextricably linked to the timing of gear changes.
A vehicle transmission ensures that the engine speed is translated to the drive speed. A rather sober process, behind which one does not suspect a lot of fun. But combustion engines have a narrow speed range. A transmission is needed to take power to the next level of gearing. Shifts have to be made.
This is where the fun begins. For decades, millions of drivers felt a sense of exhilaration at being in control of the machine, telling it when to move forward and at what speed. accelerating, braking, clutching, shifting – in motorsport, the coordination of head, hands and feet has been elevated to an art form. Whoever could do this best crossed the finish line first. Whereas the racing drivers already had advanced technology at their disposal.
Intermediate throttle to make the gears mesh
In the early days of driving, shifting gears was a complicated and sometimes risky business. The gears could not be synchronized easily, so it was necessary to engage the clutch and accelerate in between – this was the only way to mesh the gears, which was not always successful. Shifting error, overload or too little oil – and already a gearbox was history and the trouble was big. But the technology got better and with it the fun factor increased rapidly.
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Germany became a car-driving country, which it still is today. The figures prove that this is more than just a romantic transfiguration: according to a representative survey of german motorists by mobile.De from last year, 46.2 percent of respondents said they would prefer to shift gears manually. According to the survey, the proportion of manually operated cars is even higher at 56.9 percent. Only 22.2 percent said they would drive a model with an automatic transmission.
The arguments in favor of manual and automatic transmissions are interesting: "control over the car" (41.5 percent), "lower purchase price" (31.7 percent) and the "sporty driving experience" (28.2 percent) were cited as the main reasons for manual transmissions, while for automatic enthusiasts it was a "more comfortable driving experience" (57.3 percent), "easier starting" (42.4 percent) and "less wear and tear" (17.1 percent).
However, these figures cannot be extrapolated to other countries: in the USA, around 95 percent drive a car with an automatic transmission – many Americans are probably no longer able to operate a clutch. The situation is similar in japan, also a car nation. It is also true that modern automatic transmissions such as dual-clutch transmissions are superior to manual transmissions. The driver can determine the time of shifting to a certain degree, but in case of doubt, the automatic takes over in the background.
In fact, the type of transmission also depends on the segment: automatic transmissions now account for around 70 percent of vehicles in the mid-range and above, and the trend is upward. Market analyst jato confirms this trend: of the total of 5838 models from all manufacturers, only 1870 vehicles are offered with manual transmissions, 218 of them with five-speed and 1652 with six-speed transmissions. Whether the subsequent automatic transmissions – which now have seven or eight gears and are small marvels of technology – will survive the manual gearshift for long is already questionable today.
The technology transfer in the automotive industry to electric vehicles also means a paradigm shift in transmissions: electric engines deliver their speeds over a much wider range than internal combustion engines. Therefore, an input gearbox is usually sufficient. Particularly sporty models such as the porsche taycan or the audi e-tron GT have two gears.