MARCH 15, 2017 AT 4:40 PM BY MIKE DUFF, Car and Driver
The decline of the manual gearbox often feels like a drawn-out but doomed military campaign: the occasional battle is won for enthusiasts, but there’s a strong sensation that the overall war will be lost, possibly sooner than we’ve expected. At BMW, the next casualty could be the 3-series, at least in its non-M varieties.
“Across the world, virtually all of our 3-series [models] and above already have automatic transmissions,” Ian Robertson, BMW’s head of sales and marketing, told us when we sat down with him at the Geneva auto show. “China never had any manual transmissions; they went straight to auto. The U.S. is predominantly auto, and more and more of Europe is as well. We will certainly see fewer and fewer manual transmissions being offered.”
Smaller cars are safe, for now at least, with Robertson saying there are no plans to get rid of the clutch pedal in Minis or in the BMW 1-series (on the back of continuing strong European sales). But if sales of stick-shift 3-series and 4-series cars continue to slide, it seems likely the option will die out.
The manual’s prospects appear to be somewhat less grim in M-badged cars. “In the M segment,” Robertson said, “purists still love the stick shift, and we will continue to cater for that. Whether we offer it in every model remains to be seen. In some instances, it is selling in really small numbers now.” BMW insiders, however, have previously indicated that the decision to engineer the outgoing F10-generation BMW M5 with a manual transmission for North America won’t be repeated with the new car.
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