Is the automatic gearbox taking over?
Thanks to the technological evolutions of the past few decades, the automatic gearbox has become more comfortable, easier and more efficient than the manual. With electrification and hybrid powertrains, it is bound to become even more popular.
“I’m not saying that the manual gearbox is dead, but we’re slowly shifting to the automatic. On our models, it’s more than 50%”, explains Christophe Weerts, spokesperson for BMW Belux. “Many cars from German premium brands are only available on the market with an automatic gearbox.”
Many arguments can be found to explain this resurgence of the automatic gearbox and most of them implicate a technological revolution. Today, most cars are equipped with highly tuned and efficient eight, nine or even ten-speed gearboxes.
Some use the old-fashioned technologies of actuators and a torque converter but the double clutch systems have become common on small to medium size cars. The days of the sluggish, three or four speed ‘American style’ automatic gearbox are long gone.
“The major demand for auto boxes in Belgium is coming from corporate clients. The automatic drinks less fuel thanks to its tuning that allows it to change gear faster at the best moment. In addition to that, an auto box allows us to drive smoothly and more relaxed on our congested roads”, adds Christophe Weerts.
Hybrid cars and electrification
“Another explanation would be the increasing popularity for electric or electrified and hybrid cars. All those propulsion systems are equipped with some sort of automatic system”, continues the BMW spokesperson.
“Today, all our hybrid cars are using some kind of automatic gearboxes”, adds Aurélie Gerth from Toyota-Lexus. “It’s much easier to drive in the city, especially in traffic jams.” Pioneer of the hybrid technology, 56% of all cars sold by Toyota in Belgium today are hybrid. For Lexus, it’s 99%.
Expensive but intelligent
The auto box is more intelligent than ever. Not only can it read and understand what gradient the car is going over thanks to its yaw-rate sensors, some are even using data from GPS to anticipate on bends. It also allows the development of safety systems and driving assistance systems, such as radar-guided cruise control with stop and start function.
On average, an automatic gearbox – torque converter, double-clutch, robotized or CVT – costs around 2.500 euro in the options list. Logically, premium and luxurious cars’ clients are prone to choose this option but clients seeking the best and cheapest alternative will still be sensible to the extra cost.
“On the Golf, the rate of automatic gearbox preference is 40% and 50% on the Passat”, explains Joke Boon from Volkswagen. “Polo buyers are looking at the price, but those who come to test-drive a DSG gearbox (robotized, double clutch) often buy it afterwards and they don’t go back to the manual.”