Beating a dead shift knob: The ubiquity of the automatic transmission

By: Daniel Kim

Featured Image – “Nardi Shift Knob” by Tobias Toft licensed by CC 4.0

In response to the overwhelming number of articles I’ve recently digested about the ‘death’ of the manual transmission, I felt compelled to chime in on the issue that seems to be troubling motoring editors so greatly they are neglecting valuable WeatherTech floormat advertising space to write about it.

The gist of it is, most people don’t care to or know how to drive a stick. And you can’t blame the manufacturers for phasing out a feature that the masses won’t buy. Most of the auto industry is barely keeping afloat financially anyway, the last thing they need to do is invest resources into catering to a super-niche segment of the new vehicle market.

It makes much more financial sense to build something that the billions of people in China – and other emerging markets, like India – actually want.

Based on my annual summer excursions to South Korea, the new wave of wealth in the world doesn’t really want to deal with a third pedal. You can’t rest your chin casually atop your right hand while cruising Apgujeong or Cheongdam-dong scopin’ out Doenjang Girls when you have to move a lever constantly.

It’s not considered ‘cool’ to drive stick in most of the developing world. If you think about it logically, the automatic transmission was invented to save us from the horrors of having to play whack-a-mole with this metal rod every time we wanted to go somewhere.

And this is all coming from someone who’s rowed his own gears ever since his first car in high school: A 1999 Flamenco Black Pearl Honda Civic Si…..damn, that thing was fast (actually it wasn’t, I got smoked by my friend’s Nissan Pathfinder).

Now I hate to lose face in front of all my ‘hardcore’ peers, but if I had the money, I’d honestly want something with a sequential gearbox, alla Lamborghini’s E-Gear or Ferrari’s F1 system. The ability to switch to a fully automatic mode is something I desperately wish I had whenever I have to go to LA between the hours of……well basically anytime.

Maybe I’m just a pushover. Maybe I should boycott any car that doesn’t offer a manual transmission. But then, I’d never get to own any of the cars that sit on my list of dream rides. The 911 Turbo, scratch that. 458 Italia, nope. Lamborghini Gallardo? Try again.

That being said, I am a proponent of the idea that everyone should still at least know how to operate a car with a manual trans, regardless of whether they own one or not. I mean, what if you get taken to an warehouse party in the Valley by some older friends who all get sloshed and your only chance of getting home alive is to beat on some guy’s 5-speed 1994 Accord with liability insurance? (not like that ever happened to me or anything)

I guess my point is, we don’t need to write about the ‘death’ of the manual transmission anymore. It’s already dead. Instead of mourning endlessly, let’s embrace the amazing powertrain technology we now have available that can shift faster than the most skilled driver in the world.

Let us creep on the hot K-Town girls at Chapman Plaza praising the automotive Gods that thanks to our SMG transmission we shall always have one hand free to constantly adjust our sunglasses, stroke our chins and check Instagram for likes.

Let us drink automatic transmission fluid, E-Gear Tutela cocktails and be merry, for in this great age, we, the homo sapien can choose freely between slushbox and stick shift, and no one can rob us of this great liberty. Amen.




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