Jason Cammisa of Road & Track provides an interesting perspective on the oft-predicted death of manual transmission. BMW's falling take rate (percentage of buyers opting for manual transmission) is discussed in particular.
The article blames the brand's increasing attraction of buyers who are not enthusiasts for lowering the percentage of BMWs sold with manual transmission, although the raw number of certain manual BMWs sold, such as the 3 Series, remains the same as 25 years ago. So, it's a matter of perspective when it comes to analyzing whether the manual transmission is truly 'dying' in BMWs.
It's not—at least not at VW, which has expressed a commitment to keeping the option available. But the rest of the industry feels differently. BMW, for example, has Chicken Little analyzing its sales numbers. And the company's reps are convinced the sky is at risk.
To wit: Production of the V8 (E90) M3 just ended, and the results are in—45 of every 100 North American M3 buyers opted for a clutch pedal. That includes the convertible, a 4000-lb, V8-powered luxoboat that seems rather unpure. A very good sign.
BMW's 3 Series has grown so large that we're beginning to question its status as an enthusiast car, much less a purist's machine; the current Three has a bigger interior than the brand's first 7 Series. BMW built stick-shift Sevens in the 1980s, but the company doesn't have numbers on how few were sold. Production was so low, it probably didn't pay to count them.
Despite the dimensional bloat, the number of manual-gearbox 3 Series sold annually in North America hasn't decreased significantly in the last 25 years. Meanwhile, BMW's best automatic has evolved from a miserable four-speed to a computer-controlled eight-speed that shifts faster than any human, accelerates quicker, and offers better fuel economy.
But as a result of the Germans' single-minded quest to sell more cars, the brand is attracting incremental buyers who aren't enthusiasts. In other words, the take rate is falling.
Blame the image-conscious consumers who spend $279 a month to lease a heavily subsidized status symbol. And given that some of those amazing lease rates apply only to automatic-transmission models, and that many dealers won't even stock manual BMWs, it's a miracle that anyone buys a stick Three in the first place. The fact that the 3 Series still appeals to the same number of manual-transmission buyers as it did 25 years ago is a win for the stick. BMW just needs to wake up to it.
Catch the rest of the article at Road & Track