End of the Manual Era for Full-Size Trucks
The era of the shift-it-yourself full-size pickup seems to have come to an end. There was once a time when trucks of all sizes included a manual transmission option almost by default, with all of the domestic and Japanese manufacturers providing gearboxes ranging from tow-focused units with granny-low first gears all the way up to five-speed overdrive trannies. Try to use an online configurator to build a similar type of half-ton pickup today and you’ll find yourself completely out of luck.
What has pushed automaker away from providing manual half-ton trucks? The last of the breed fled the scene around the 2009 model year, when Ford and Dodge both reshaped their flagship models and introduced a series of mechanical and platform changes to the F-150 and the Ram 1500, respectively. Careful examination of historical records will reveal that 2009 also represented the high water mark of the fuel efficiency movement, when truck companies and consumers alike realized that fuel prices weren’t going to be dropping any time soon. Government pressure and uncertainty regarding future Corporate Average Fuel Economy Regulations (CAFE) and whether light trucks would be included in the future overall tabulation was also nearing a fever pitch at this particular point in time.
What does the disappearance of manual pickup transmissions have to do with fuel mileage? Absolutely everything. Simply put, by moving to advanced six-speed automatic transmissions manufacturers were able to dial-in a level of economy previously impossible in the full-size truck segment. Double overdrive gears could sit beside low-range ratios suitable for getting a trailer or cargo bed payload moving forward, and precise software management of shift points and engine speeds could work towards achieving the most efficient operation possible.
There is one area of the full-size truck market where manual transmissions continue to pop up, and that’s when taking a look at three-quarter and full-ton tow rigs. Dodge, for example, continues to offer the choice of either a six-speed automatic or a six-speed manual gearbox when ordering the Ram 3500 with a Cummins turbodiesel engine. Although not all manufacturers agree (GMC does not offer a full-ton with a manual, for example), some executives remain convinced that the ability of the driver to shift into the appropriate gear for a given uphill or downhill grade is an important consideration when purchasing a pickup. Of course, manual gear selection is an increasingly common feature in automatic units, which could eventually negate this particular argument.
There is still a market for big rigs with traditional standard transmissions – especially since these vehicles are exempt from EPA fuel mileage reporting requirements – but it’s getting smaller with each passing model year.
With the new, powerful automatic transmissions, will consumers notice the lack of manual transmissions?
Filed Under: TundraHeadquarters.com