Safety technology could further drive demise of manual transmission, on top of popularity decline

The manual transmission faces yet another element going against its presence in new vehicles of the future, reports Automotive News Canada; in addition to waning demand for the do-it-yourself gearbox, the stick shift could now be increasingly sidelined due to active safety systems that work best with automatic transmissions.

In North America, vehicles equipped with manual transmission account for just 1.2% of the market’s share, and this could be further eroded by advanced driver assistance systems such as intelligent cruise control and autonomous emergency braking (AEB), automotive supplier ZF was quoted as saying.

Dozens of countries have agreed to make AEB mandatory equipment, according to the report. Canada has started a process that could also put through a similar mandate in the country, according to a Transport Canada spokesperson; The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) of the United States n 2019 reached an agreement with 20 automakers to voluntarily equip most new vehicles with AEB by 2022, according to the report.

In Europe, AEB will be required in new car and light trucks sold on the continent from next year, though most automakers have already included the feature ahead of the regulation coming into effect, said ZF senior vice president of active safety engineering Manfred Meyer.

Systems such as the EyeSight active safety suite by Subaru is available only on models equipped with automatic transmission, and among the reasons for this is that manual transmission models lack an electronic parking brake which keeps the vehicle from creeping forward following an emergency stop, according to Automotive News Canada.

Demand for Subaru’s manual transmission models comprised of one quarter of its vehicles sold annually in Canada, said Subaru Canada product management spokesperson Anton Pawczuk, who said that the decision to forego its adoption on manual versions was an economic one.

“If it’s only 10 per cent of your sales and dropping, then your choices are either to improve EyeSight as a technology and make it better for the vast majority of vehicles that have it, or try to create something for the manual, Pawczuk said.

Conversely, Mazda continues to offer the pairing of manual transmission with the Smart City Brake Support AEB system, the news site reported. “We don’t want to penalise drivers who want to choose a manual transmission,” Mazda Canada manager of product communications Chuck Reimer told Automotive News Canada.

The US-market Yaris sedan can be equipped with AEB as the Mazda 2 Sedan gets it, while the previous generation Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ duo does without

Stalling the vehicle if the driver forgets to operate the clutch is an acceptable trade-off, Reimer added, and Mazda’s radar cruise control also an operate with manual transmission. The driver remains fully in control of gear selection, and the system will remain engaged even if the engine is operated outside its comfortable rev range, he continued.

Toyota takes a two-pronged approach, says Toyota Canada vice president Stephen Beatty; the manufacturer’s models that feature the Toyota Safety Sense safety equipment suite include them as standard equipment, but is also adapted for use in versions with manual transmission. “We’ve tried to democratise safety systems throughout our line-up,” Beatty said.

Models which are jointly developed with other automakers will depend on the partner brand’s approach; the North American-market Yaris shares its base with the Mazda 2, therefore can be specified with AEB, however the previous-generation Toyota 86, which is co-developed with the Subaru BRZ, lacks the equipment. That said, Toyota says that the automatic version of the latest-generation GR 86 will come with the Subaru EyeSight safety suite.

Overall, the global market for cars equipped with manual transmission has dropped to 17.1%, with the aforementioned 1.2% market share for manual transmission-equipped vehicles in North America, according to statistics from IHS Markit and ZF Group. For the United States, IHS Markit found that sales of electric vehicles have eclipsed that of manual transmission vehicles in 2020.

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