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Crunch time for manual gearbox, says Audi

Shifting cogs: Audi’s new TT comes with a manual, but the company will likely limit its use of the self-shifter in future.

Autos shaping up to phase out manual gearbox, Audi technical chief says

Audi logo11 Mar 2014

By MIKE COSTELLO in GENEVA

THE humble manual gearbox could soon be the exclusive province of budget cars and a small number of ‘enthusiast’ vehicles, says Audi board member and head of technical development Ulrich Hackenberg.

Speaking to Australian media at last week’s Geneva motor show, Dr Hackenberg – who was instrumental in developing Volkswagen’s ubiquitous DSG dual-clutch automatic transmission – said the self-shifter was inferior to a modern automatic in almost every technical capacity.

This included fuel consumption and performance, with modern autos out-gunning the manual shifter in both capacities, he said.

“I think manual gearboxes will go back (be reduced in their usage) absolutely, because with double-clutch and also with new multi-speed gearboxes based on hydraulics, you can use an automatic gearbox very manually,” he said, referring to the fact that many modern autos have manual gear change functions, only without a traditional foot-operated clutch.

“If you look to the needs of the customers you can do everything with an automatic gearbox, so it’s only a question of the money. Manual gearboxes, I think, will stay in cars where the customer wants a lower price, and maybe some more sporty cars.

“But I think maybe it’s (even) much more sporty to have a double-clutch, for example on the Nurburgring. Racing with the DSG in an Audi TT gives you an advantage of 5-7 seconds, because your hands are on the steering.” The new-generation TT coupe launched at the Swiss expo last week retains the options of a six-speed manual gearbox. However, the next-generation R8 supercar and its Lamborghini Huracan cousin will be automatic-only.

GoAuto asked Dr Hackenberg if, hypothetically, Audi may phase out the manual from its range by an arbitrary date of 2020.

“I can imagine that in A6, A4 maybe in 2020 we are going purely automatic,” he said, but adding that “we have the manual if the customer asks for it, it’s developed, so there’s no reason to push it out”.

In other words, if the research and development on the manual has been paid for, there is little reason to not at least offer it. Many Audis in Australia already only come with manual gearboxes on a special order basis.

Automatics dominate in Australia and other western markets such as the US, but in Europe and much of the developing world manual gearboxes remain popular.

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