Autonomy will kill BMW M manuals

Manual M cars will continue into the next next generation, but will eventually die – because of autonomy.
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The manual gearbox might be living on a serious time overdraft in many parts of the world, but BMW’s M Division has no plans to stop offering it any time soon.

When we spoke to boss Frank Van Meel at the launch of the M2 and M5 Competition earlier this week, he said we can expect to still have the option of a stick shift, even as the company moves to its new, modular fifth-generation architecture.

We need to thank Americans; while a respectable number of manual M2s have been sold in Australia thanks to the minimalist Pure model, the US still has a huge demand for the things; Van Meel says that 50 percent of M2s sold there have a clutch pedal.

“Buyers vote with their wallets,” he admitted, “being an engineer I would say from a rational standpoint that even though the manual gearbox is lighter than an automated gearbox it uses more fuel and is slower, so it doesn't really make sense...

"But from the emotional standpoint, a lot of customers say 'I don't care, I want to have one'. As long as we have these take rates on M2, but also the M3 and M4, we're going to offer manuals because we listen to our customers... If demand is so high, then why not fulfil it?"

But, ultimately, the manual gearbox will have to die, with Van Meel saying the move to high-level autonomy will likely be the thing that kills it.

“The bad news is that if we one day have autonomous cars, then the manual cannot work any more," he said, "so that would be, let's say, the natural end.”

Given BMW’s aggressive plans to introduce models capable of piloting themselves at least some of the time within the next decade any dream of a manual M car is one that’s probably best not delayed for too long.