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  • Writer's pictureDoug Hull

Gearing up for the future...

Dear Mr Regeneralist,

My husband and I disagree on whether our teenage daughter should learn to drive a manual or automatic car. He says that manual cars are a rapidly dying breed, but I think they will be around for a lot longer.

Can you help us resolve this debate?

Mrs Regeneralist

Hi Mrs R,

Firstly let me say that your husband sounds like a truly wonderful man - you are lucky to have him!

To answer your question, there are two avenues to consider here. The first is the ongoing global trend towards automatic vehicles over manuals from a convenience perspective. The other is around the projected rise of Electric Vehicles, or EV's. No prizes for guessing which one I am, going to discuss here!

There is no doubt that at some point in the future all cars, with the exception of antiques and speciality vehicles, will be EV's - either conventional battery or fuel-cell (hydrogen) powered. These vehicles do not require a clutch and gears as they don't have the same power limitations as conventional internal combustion engines, therefore it is likely they will all be 'automatic' vehicles. There is a chance that some EV manufacturers will develop some types of gearboxes for EV's, but this will probably only be for a small contingent of die-hard petrolheads. The vast majority of the population will just get used to driving cars with no gears. In fact I predict that the terms 'manual' and 'automatic' will eventually fall away as they will no longer be relevant.

The real question is - when is this scenario likely to arrive? You argue that this is a long way off, while your dashing husband says the opposite.

There is a very strong global trend towards EV's developing, and I believe that those countries who are in denial, like Australia, are in for a rude awakening at some point. California has legislated that by 2035 all new vehicles be zero-emission vehicles, and it appears that other US states are following suit. Other big players like the UK, The Netherlands and Japan are pushing for this to happen by 2030 (although they will allow hybrid vehicle sales past this date). The most ambitious country at present is Norway who is targeting a 2025 cutoff for the sale of cars with tailpipes (and manual gearboxes!). So clearly we are fast approaching an EV tipping point... and being a non-car-producing nation itself, Australia will be at the mercy of the car manufacturers elsewhere.

What about the poorer nations in the world? Well, the roadmap towards EVs will take a lot longer since cars tend to be on the road for many more years in these nations. They will not be able to avoid the global trends, however, and if the global manufacturers stop making traditional combustion engines then these numbers will start to dwindle.

And what about the oil industry? Could we reach a tipping point when demand suddenly drops below a critical threshold. Would the oil producing nations reduce their production in an orderly manner or would they start competing with each for the 'dregs' of the market? I don't have a clue really, but it would be naive to think there will be no impact on the oil industry over the next few decades and consumers could be in for a rocky petrol-fuelled ride! Hopefully the forward thinking among us will have prepared adequately and bought EVs by then!

So what is the Regeneralist verdict then about manual v automatic cars? There is a lot to unpack here, and the battery levels on my crystal ball are a bit low, but here it is: There is no question that having a manual license gives you more options in the world today (and will do for years to come in the third world), but it certainly isn't a necessity for those living in Australia. In the next 10 to 20 years manual vehicles with internal combustion engines will fade out of existence (like CD players -remember those?), and we will look back with misty eyes on the days when we 'drove stick' ! And if you own a petrol station- now is the time to sell it!

Until next time!


aka The Regeneralist

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Nov 05, 2021

I suggest you teach both - and find out if Ferraris and Porsches are automatic or manual - that is what your daughters will want to drive !

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