Electric cars won’t kill the manual, crippling regulations will

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Words: Matthew Hansen
31 May 2021

We’ve talked plenty about the humble manual transmission. Slowly but surely it’s started to disappear across the motoring landscape, with barely a handful of manufacturers still offering the do-it-yourself option these days.

The question of why manuals have fallen out of favour has all sorts of answers. Some will say electric cars are removing the need for their development. Others will draw attention to the numbers; automatics are almost always better sellers.

But according to a new report, the final nail in the coffin of the manual gearbox will be global safety regulations. Automotive News Canada writes that the manual transmission will soon fall out of favour due to the number of active safety toys that either work better when paired to an automatic vehicle, or simply don’t work at all when paired to a manual.

The report poses an interesting question; how long will manufacturers persevere with manual transmissions if or when Autonomous Emergency Braking becomes a mandatory requirement?

The active-safety feature has become more and more common in recent years, with most subcompact economy cars now offering it as standard. Among the few segments where AEB isn’t necessarily as common is the performance segment.

The report uses Subaru as a notable example of this. While the Japanese marque proudly boasts about its (admittedly quite good) Eyesight safety tech suite that features in the bulk of its models, it doesn’t come standard with either variant of WRX.

Evidently, Subaru appears committed to the stick … at least for the moment. Speaking to Automotive News Canada, a Subaru spokesperson confirmed as much, adding that “if [AEB] becomes mandated one day, then we’ll have to take a look at it.”

Subaru joins the likes of Honda, Mazda, and Porsche as being in for the long haul when it comes to manual gearboxes. Honda’s media relations manager in North America, Carl Pulley, recently confirmed that the next-gen Civic Si and Civic Type R would both be exclusively manual-equipped.

While it’s sad news to the enthusiast market, it’s worth remembering that we’re a drop in the ocean relative to the rest of the new-car market.

It’s also important to note that Europe, arguably the sole remaining manual transmission stronghold where mainstream models still get manual options on a frequent basis, is also likely to be the first continent that bans the internal combustion car … most likely subsequently phasing out the few remaining manuals with it.


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