BMW will soon stop offering manual transmissions on its entire range of cars with the advent of electric powertrains and increased efficiency of automatic gearboxes.
Out of the three Germans, BMW has long been seen as the more performance-oriented manufacturer. Its range of cars caters to the businessman, turning into out-and-out sports cars with the addition of the venerable M badge. Giving these cars a manual gearbox has earned the brand a loyal following.
With the unveiling of BMW’s upcoming G20 platform, the company has declared that the manual transmission is no more its priority for the future. While it does sound disappointing, engineers at BMW say those buying M cars shouldn’t worry, at least for the next decade.
BMW development chief Klaus Frohlich discussed the future of the manual transmission with regards to M cars at the Los Angeles Motor Show. He brought glad tidings for enthusiasts, announcing that the company will continue to offer the next-generation M4 with the six-speed manual transmission, calling the car as a “fortress” of BMW’s last stick-shift.
“Honestly, the pure engineering answer is, you’re much faster with paddles and an automatic transmission,” said Frohlich while talking to Road and Track at the 2018 Los Angeles Auto Show. “They’re very precise and sporty. Especially on the Nurburgring, you are much better in control when you’re not taking one hand away. I think, in the overall portfolio, manuals will disappear. But I think M4 should be the fortress of manual. So the last manual transmission which will die, it should die in an M4, as late as possible. That’s my view.”
Though Frohlich accepts that an automatic ‘box is quicker around the track, he acknowledges the niche market that BMW has generated around a very specific platform that defines the lineage of the M3 and M4. These two cars have always had a front-mounted inline-six with a manual gearbox that powers the rear wheels. Due to this, Frohlich confirmed that the next-generation M4 will feature the same manual transmission with an available rear-wheel-drive configuration. BMW will keep producing the M4, which people affectionately call the “Drift Machine”, until 2027 or 2028.
On the flip side, BMW is not investing in a new manual ‘box. With the increasingly shrinking number of people buying stick-shift M cars that are torque-heavy, building a reliable manual transmission for the desired power output costs too much to turn a decent profit.
“Honestly, you have a problem with manuals,” Frohlich continued. “Because we have these turbocharged engines with 600 Nm of torque, to develop such a high-torque manual transmission for such a small volume isn’t profitable at all. So I tried to prolong the lifetime of the manuals, but we can’t invest in developing a new manual transmission. No transmission partner will do that with us. So we are evolving our existing manuals as long as possible.”