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Chrysler Should Have Known: Stick Shifts Don’t Sell

12-09-2012 20:00:00

If the Dodge Dart is going to save Chrysler it will do so with an automatic transmission.

The car maker said it sold 974 of the compact Darts in June and July, its first two months on the market. That level might be OK for boutique sports cars and specialty luxury brands but not for the Dart, which is supposed to be a high-volume seller.

To be a home-run success and compete head-to-head with top compact cars like the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, Dodge really needs to sell that many Darts every day, or at least every two or three days.

The problem, according to some Dodge dealers, is that the first batches of Darts to arrive at in showrooms came with manual transmissions. Parent company Chrysler should not be surprised that the cars aren’t moving.

It is a sad fact of automotive life that U.S. drivers generally don’t shift gears. Whether it is a result of laziness, preoccupation with oversize lattes and hand-held electronics, or that we simply never had the opportunity to learn, we Americans prefer transmissions that shift themselves.

I’m quite certain I enjoy shifting gears more than most people, and I will go out of my way to do it. But I have to admit to being part of an understandably fading breed.

Young drivers interested in learning to drive a stick shift car today are hard-pressed to find one because their numbers have been waning for decades. Even stalwarts of “sticks” like Porsche, BMW and Volkswagen are now pushing advanced automatics and paddle-shifted dual-clutch transmissions that demand little of the driver.

I saw the writing on the wall more than a decade ago, the first time I drove my 5-speed Mazda Miata while chatting on my then-new mobile phone. What a pain! I realized that unless humans evolved into three-armed creatures, the stick was doomed.

Anyone who drives a car in the real world — commuting, shuttling kids and running errands while never quite detaching oneself from work — can tell you why shifting gears manually isn’t an option.

Is Chrysler just “getting the memo” now?


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