March 30, 2013
In the tradition of the ever-humble Vince Koza, I'm going to tell you a story about spring training and how great I am.
I'm so loved in Arizona, I don't even rent a car. I'm given cars. People are like, "Hey, are you KZ from The Lima News? Here's a car."
I love it!
This year, I was blessed with a 2007 Honda Element. Before handing my the keys, a generous college friend asked, "Do you drive stick?"
Do I? If it were up to me, that's all I would drive: the feeling of torque control, the excitement of finding the right timing, the synergy of man and machine. Driving a manual transmission is the only real driving that exists. Everything else is just steering a car.
So I picked up her oversized go kart and set it loose on Arizona highways, making each trip to each game a symphony of engine hum and desert breezes. I checked for openings in traffic, relished the responsiveness and delighted at zipping on fresh blacktop.
You know what I didn't do? Touch my smartphone.
For the first time since I bought my first Nokia, I wasn't at all tempted to text anyone, check Facebook updates or snap Instagram pictures. I just drove, actively drove.
Instead of banning the use of electronic devices, Ohio ought to just ban automatic transmissions. And while you're at it, senators, lets ban boring cars, too.
Because, lets be honest, the worst texting offenders drive the most boring vehicles. When on my motorcycle, I always steer clear of Camrys, Odysseys, Tauruses and Versas. Their drivers are either checking Twitter and asleep at the wheel, zombies of the road.
So I made a vow to myself. I said, "Self, let's never, ever buy another automatic. And let's always stick to fun drives."
And then my cousin threw a wrench into my plans.
"Idiot," he said. "They're phasing stick shifts out."
I hadn't shopped for a vehicle since 2008, so I had no idea. But it's true.
If you look at upcoming plans for most models available in America, very few have manual transmissions. That's mostly because people are lazy and uncoordinated. But there are other factors at play.
Automatic transmissions have gotten smarter. In the past, manual had the advantage of better fuel economy. But automatics have gotten smarter with the aid of advanced computers. In some cases, they're more fuel-efficient than their manual counterparts.
Another strike against the stick shift is U.S. regulations. Around the world, manual transmissions remain very popular. But in America, each engine and transmission configuration requires testing and verification of compliance with federal regulations. That costs the manufacturer a bundle.
So, if you're a car maker with three different engine types offered on a model, offering it in manual and automatic means six different efforts to get your car approved. And if demand hints that you might not profit much from offering manual, why spend the money and time on it? Just get your three automatic transmissions approved and start selling.
And that makes sense for the Chevrolets and Hyundais of the world, but what about real sports cars? Surely, they're not buying in, right?
Wrong. Ferrari's selected the California as its final model to carry a manual transmission. And Lamborghini reports it only fits a stick shift on 5 percent of its cars.
I guess I'll have to get my gear-shifting fix on two wheels. Just gotta remember to steer my motorcycle clear of those Camrys.