A vice-president for BMW’s M division says that the conventional automatic transmission will win the gearbox war. Not only will it win, but it could be over in just a few years, with both three-pedal and dual-clutch manual transmissions going the way of the carburetor. At least for BMW.
Peter Quintus, BMW M’s vice-president of sales and marketing, told Australian outfit Drive that manual transmissions and dual-clutch gearboxes are both on borrowed time, at least in M cars. “It’s more a question of how long has the DCT got to go, how long will it last?”
Automatic transmissions keep getting better, with eight, nine, ten, and even 11-speed gearboxes meaning that “there’s a lot of technology in modern automatics.” According to Quintus, “the DCT once had two advantages: it was light and its shift speeds were higher.” That shift advantage gets smaller with every generation of new automatic, but there isn’t room for improvement on the DCT and it’s hard to make a conventional manual shift faster, since it depends on the nut behind the wheel. If there’s no performance advantage to the dual-clutch box, it’s difficult to continue to justify making them.
While increasing emissions and fuel economy standards plays a part in the transition to torque-converter automatics, Quintus says that the massive amounts of power that modern M cars make is playing a role as well. He said that the durability limit of BMW’s manual boxes lies somewhere around 440 lb-ft of torque and 450 hp. That doesn’t seem like a high limit, especially when cars like the 2017 Dodge Challenger Hellcat make 700+ hp and 650 lb-ft of torque. Quintus said that “we looked at US gearboxes. We found they were heavy and the shift quality was awful.”
As to when the manual could disappear from BMW’s M cars: “I’m not even sure the next generation of M3 and M4 models from BMW will have the option of a manual gearbox.”
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