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post #1 of 24 (permalink) Old 02-15-2005, 12:17 PM Thread Starter
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Transmission choice undergoes a radical shift

[size=18px] Transmission choice undergoes a radical shift
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By George P. Blumberg
Special to the Trubune
Published February 11, 2005


When most cars had to be manually shifted, grinding gears was a rite of passage. Automatic transmissions, introduced on the 1940 Oldsmobile, have changed that. Now with fewer than 10 percent of cars purchased with manual transmissions, shifting seems a fading part of Americana.

To many, shifting seems an arcane, almost black art. Like tracking tigers in the jungle, weaving rope or starting fires with flint and steel, shifting is an almost-lost skill, taught within families, passed down to generations. But if dad or mom were raised on automatics, who will teach the kids?

Most driving schools have dropped out of manual transmission instruction. An exception is John Mihalczo's Safety First Driving Schools of New Jersey, which offers dual control manual transmission Saturn Ions in addition to his automatic transmission equipped fleet.

"We offer it as a service," said Mihalczo, 39 and an instructor for 15 years, "but there's an 80 percent lesson cancellation rate. Most stick customers already know how to drive, and it's not really that important to learn stick, so they cancel."

The cancellation rate for automatic transmission lessons, he says, is only 2 percent. "But I won't offer beginning instruction in a stick shift car. We require someone who has a learner's permit for at least six months or a license. First you learn driving and vehicle control, then shifting."

Mihalczo has a three-level shifting course at $100 per level.

"It usually takes about six hours average to get proficient," he says. If that sounds like a lot of money, consider the wear and tear his cars take.

"A 12,000-mile Saturn is on its third clutch already," he says. A clutch job costs him about $1,500, on top of the $5,000 to add dual controls. Besides, says Mihalczo: "It's tough to find qualified stick shift instructors who tolerate getting their heads snapped back and forth."

"Sometimes car salespersons will provide a couple of shifting lessons after a purchase is made," said Ray Desimone, 33, sales manager for Saturn of Brunswick, N.J. "But you can't count on that."

A year ago, Sarah Lahalih began offering a course in shifting at her Motorcycle Riding School at 1400 N. Halsted St. She uses Mini Cooper with dual controls that cost her about $5,000 to retrofit. The course costs $75 an hour with a three-hour minimum. She says a licensed driver can be on their own and ready for refined tactics with a stick.

Sensing an opportunity, Mihalczo set up a relationship with Desimone's dealership, along with local Porsche and BMW stores, to teach their customers how to use the stick shift. "It's great," said Desimone, "we let them know we can arrange a lesson for them, and we can throw it into the deal. It further differentiates us."

Dan Kern, manager of Perillo BMW of Chicago, says dealers typically have a salesperson help a novice by taking him to an out-of-the-way place. "If customer couldn't drive stick like on a Z4 , we'd take him for test drive, as a passenger. Once the deal was solidified, we'd give him orientation."

Ross Nelson, senior salesman at Loeber Motors Linconwood, says he has taught a few customers over the years. "But today most people who learn do so through friend or relative. We don't allow people on test drives with sticks unless they know how to drive reasonably. We have had some people who have bought without knowing how to drive it."

Why learn to shift at all? "Some people need to learn before a European trip," said Desimone. Most European rental cars have standard transmissions, and rental fees for automatics are stiff.

According to Neil Oddes, Product Research Manager with J.D. Power and Associates, only about 7 percent of new cars and light trucks in the U.S. have manual transmissions. Eleven percent have manual/automatic "manumatics" (such as Audi's Tiptronic), in which the driver can choose full automatic operation or to push a button to select a gear with a computer making the shift. There is no clutch pedal. The majority of cars, 82 percent, have traditional automatics, and about 1 percent have continuously variable transmissions, or CVTs. CVTs are automatic transmissions driven by an infinitely adjusting metal link belt that replaces gears and keeps engine performance at optimum.

"There are big differences by segments," said Oddes. "For example in the premium sports car category," which includes the Audi TT, Chrysler Crossfire and BMW Z, "manual transmissions are in 49 percent of new cars sold. Thirty eight percent are hybrids, and 13 percent are automatics."

According to Art Spinella, chief executive of CNW Marketing Research in Bandon Ore., "If it weren't for a growing trend of women ordering and buying manual transmission vehicles, the stick shift might already be relegated to automotive history books. More female new-car buyers are selecting manual transmissions than men."

For people who want to make use of all the power and versatility of the machines they drive, controlling the gears manually is key. Many proponents of shifting point to it as a skill that gives greater car control (especially in slippery conditions), makes the driver more alert and in tune with the vehicle and is more economical. When pressed, they admit that it's just fun--and that manumatics just don't cut it.

John DiStefano, 23, of Franklin Park, N.J., learned to drive on an automatic, as did his father, who is 45. Recently, DiStefano took manual lessons from Mihalczo.

"I want to buy a Porsche someday, and I want to know how to drive it," he said. "You should buy a Porsche with a manual shift to get the maximum fun from it.

"I mastered it in three days," he said. "The last day I was able to start on a hill." Hill starts, where the car may roll back before the clutch grabs, is a challenge for manual transmission novices. "I came back telling dad how easy it is. For the knowledge of driving, you should open your mind and try it."

- - -

Getting it in gear

Here are some snazzy names for transmissions and the carmakers that came up with them:

Citromatic--Citroen

Dynaflow--Buick

Flashaway--Nash

Flash-O-Matic--American Motors (Rambler)

Flightomatic--Studebaker

Ford-O-Matic--Ford

Hydra-Matic--Cadillac

Hy-Drive--Plymouth

Jetaway--Oldsmobile

Merc-O-Matic--Mercury

Powerflite--Chrysler

Powerglide--Chevrolet

Strato-Flight--Pontiac

Torqueflite--Chrysler

Turbo 350--Buick

Ultramatic--Packard

Vacamatic--Chrysler

Source: "The Standard Catalogue Of American Cars"

Shifting patterns

Here is a chart that shows intentions/demand for manual transmissions by men and women in the last 20 years. It was created by CNW Marketing/Research in Bandon, Ore., based on a survey of new-vehicle shoppers who planned to buy a car or truck within six months. Intentions may not translate into a purchase because of lack of the option, vehicle inventory or salesperson.


1985 1990 1995 2000 2004 Men 52.8% 48.3% 28.1% 15.6% 9.3% Women 4.4% 4.9% 7.7% 10.3% 12.7% Overall 31.6% 28.8% 19.1% 13.6% 10.3%
Changing gears

These are total light vehicle sales (in millions of units) of domestic and import car and trucks broken down by automatic and manual transmissions:


MODEL AUTOMATIC %* OF TOTAL MANUAL % OF TOTAL TOTAL SALES YEAR 1985 10,021,482 77.6% 2,887,171 22.4% 12,908,653 1990 10,141,794 78.7% 2,752,150 21.3% 12,893,944 1995 12,816,559 83.1% 2,602,211 16.9% 15,418,770 2000 15,995,874 90% 1,785,377 10.0% 17,781,251 2001 14,898,961 90.6% 1,540,618 9.4% 16,439,579 2003 16,752,979 92.6% 1,335,531 7.3% 18,088,510 *Includes manual/automatic hybrids Source: Ward's Communications

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post #2 of 24 (permalink) Old 02-15-2005, 12:22 PM
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Transmission choice undergoes a radical shift

Awesome: "If it weren't for a growing trend of women ordering and buying manual transmission vehicles, the stick shift might already be relegated to automotive history books. More female new-car buyers are selecting manual transmissions than men." Women rock!

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post #3 of 24 (permalink) Old 02-15-2005, 12:31 PM
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Transmission choice undergoes a radical shift

Yeah, maybe my future wife will want/know how to drive a manual! :-D Hell, I'll make sure of it

It's sad that manual transmissions in the US are being phased out. A few people I know who came to the US from Europe have made the comment, "What's with all the 'lazy' cars here?"


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post #4 of 24 (permalink) Old 02-15-2005, 12:45 PM
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Transmission choice undergoes a radical shift

If my wife didn't know how to drive stick, I'd go nuts.

Eat right, exercise regularly, die anyway.
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post #5 of 24 (permalink) Old 02-15-2005, 01:21 PM
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Transmission choice undergoes a radical shift

Quote:
Originally Posted by "csweeney"
Awesome: "If it weren't for a growing trend of women ordering and buying manual transmission vehicles, the stick shift might already be relegated to automotive history books. More female new-car buyers are selecting manual transmissions than men." Women rock!
Yes we do rock! I got a manual myself and I taught my fiance how to drive...hows that for role reversal?


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post #6 of 24 (permalink) Old 02-15-2005, 01:23 PM
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Transmission choice undergoes a radical shift

i think it should be mandatory for people to learn to drive a stick when getting their license, what happens when you have to drive a friends car (friend might be drunk/injered) thats a stick and you dont know how?

[good ole' days]
great story on how i learned to drive a stick:
i was 14 or so and my dad told me to grab the keys for his 80's ford ranger. he then parked the car on our drive way (house in the country so drive way is long and rather steep) and tells me what the basics of driving a stick are, he then gets out and stands behind the truck. he tells me to go up the drive way, and if i roll back i will hit and injur him, so DONT ROLL BACK. needless to say i got pretty good at driving on hills
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post #7 of 24 (permalink) Old 02-15-2005, 07:16 PM
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Transmission choice undergoes a radical shift

Automatics are fine for "appliance drivers." These are people that drive merely because it's transportation, the car is another appliance to then just like a toaster or washing machine. It's easier, and they make them because it sells.

It's amazing that so many cars still offer the manual transmission as standard...but try to find them without the added "option" of the automatic and you'll be searching far and wide. One friend tried to order a 6 speed manual for his 2003 F250 SuperDuty when he bought it new. They wanted him to order it something like 6 months in advance.

Quote:
i think it should be mandatory for people to learn to drive a stick when getting their license, what happens when you have to drive a friends car (friend might be drunk/injered) thats a stick and you dont know how?
I like being DD when I know I get to drive a buddy's stick car back for him after a few too many brews. Did that last friday night and scared the crap out of my friend when I drove him home in his Hyundai. I guess I drive a wee bit more agressively than he's used to.

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post #8 of 24 (permalink) Old 02-15-2005, 07:39 PM
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Transmission choice undergoes a radical shift

Quote:
Originally Posted by "velocity_r3d"
Yes we do rock! I got a manual myself and I taught my fiance how to drive...hows that for role reversal?
I've taught 2 of my exes how to drive stick, I'm pretty good at teaching

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post #9 of 24 (permalink) Old 02-15-2005, 07:40 PM
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^^^ plus when your drunk the car feels way faster during acceleration.


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post #10 of 24 (permalink) Old 02-15-2005, 08:45 PM
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Transmission choice undergoes a radical shift

automatic transmission = cancer



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