The manual transmission, in decline among North American car buyers for decades, faces fresh technological threats to its existence.
Advanced driver-assist systems such as intelligent cruise control and automatic emergency braking (AEB) could further erode the manual’s market share — which sits at only 1.2 per cent in North America, according to global auto supplier ZF Group.
These smart safety features can function with manuals but work best with automatics.
Smart safety uses cameras, radar, lidar — using lasers — and other sensors to maintain safe traffic gaps under cruise control. They also alert drivers to an imminent collision, braking automatically if necessary.
The technology poses a dilemma for automakers: Spend money to adapt it to work with manual transmissions or recognize declining consumer demand? The response depends on the company and the market.
Also, dozens of countries have agreed to make AEB mandatory, just like antilock braking and skid control systems.
Transport Canada regulators have begun a process that could result in such a mandate, a department spokesman said. In 2019, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reached an agreement with 20 manufacturers to voluntarily equip most new vehicles with AEB by 2022, which likely makes any Canadian regulation moot.
AEB will be required on new cars and light trucks sold in Europe next year. Most automakers have added the feature in advance of the regulation’s taking effect, Manfred Meyer, ZF’s senior vice-president, active safety engineering, said from the company’s headquarters in Germany.
“That is a function that is ready to go,” Meyer said. That includes manual transmissions, which still dominate in the subcompact and compact passenger vehicles popular in Europe.