What do you think of this idea: A manual-automatic transmission?

If you follow these forums, posters here report problems about automatic transmissions all the time. And if you’ve ever seen an automatic transmission taken apart, the insides look like a computer wiring harness, only instead of wires, dozens of tiny channels running every which way, being filled with fluid in operation, the fluid flow to this part or that doing the computing to decide at what operating point to make the gear changes. As w/a carb, it’s a Rube Goldberg contraption, and it’s sort of amazing automatic transmissions work at all. Add to that the torque converter, the lock-up shudder problems, who wouldn’t want to get rid of these problems?

So here’s my idea: A manual-automatic transmission. It’s very simple. It’s just a regular 5 or 6 speed manual transmission, you know with the gears lubricated by plain old gear oil, and a manual clutch, no torque converter. The only difference is that instead of the gear selector lever and the clutch pedal, there’s a hidden robot gadget that does the shifting for you. Some electronic computer gizmos decides when to shift, and then it disengages the clutch, switches the gears, engages the clutch, and away you go. All the driver does is press on the gas, or the brake. When you come to a stop at a stoplight, the robot disengages the clutch and shifts into neutral. The engine idles under no transmission load at all.

So you get all the benefits of an automatic transmission (at least from the drivers perspective), but eliminate most of the complexities. Good mpg. Good 0-60 times. And manual transmission are more robust than automatics. They are more forgiving. And this one would be even more so, b/c the clutch would be gently shifted by the robot. The clutch would last a long time. And this manual-automatic would be cheap to manufacture. After all, it is just a manual transmission with a robot gadget to shift the gears for you. It’s all proven technology. Nothing complicated. And cheap to maintain. No pan to drop, no filter to clean out, no transmission fluid to burn or worry about. Gear oil is tough as nails. There’s probably lots of manual transmission cars with 300K on them (or more) which have never had their gear oil changed or even inspected. Oh, one more thing, less heat load on the cooling system. N need for the transmission coolers or cooling lines in the radiator. You could get by with a smaller radiator.

Automatic transmissions. CVT transmissions. They are all too complicated. Why not stick to something tried and true. Manual transmissions are proven technology. Robust technology. Just add a simple robot, and you got what to me seems like a good idea.

So what do you think?

Great idea, but about 60 years too late. This has been done by many car manufacturers for many years. Early attempts were all mechanical and not very good. Modern dual-clutch sequential manual gear boxes have been offered by BMW, Audi, Mercedes, Ferrari, Lamborghini, etc. for many years. Modern computer controlled “auto manual” gear boxes can shift in 50ms or less as well as perfectly match down shifts. They are more expensive than conventional manual or automatics and are usually offered on high-end cars that can justify the price. All F1 race cars have been using this technology for many years.

Some big trucks already have these. I drove an international that had one of these, it was weird. It was called am automated manual.

Renault had this on the R10 model back in the 60’s. BTW, you haven’t taken a manual transmission apart have you?

That exact transmission is in a number of Fords now (Fiesta, Focus). And they’ve initially been troublesome.

Porsche made a point of designing their manual and automatic (automated manual) to share the maximum amount of parts.

But a number of ‘normal’ automatic transmissions are coming out with 6, 7, 8, and more speeds. I don’t think the automated manuals have any major advantage, given the computer controls and mechanism required for them.

So now ‘automatic’ can mean ‘regular’, ‘automated manual’, and CVT…lots of options. Just not manual (much).

I also must say that I feel that CVT transmissions are relatively simple, many are very robust designs such as the one in a prius. I love manual transmissions, however I feel that a automated manual is just as complicated, or more complicated than a CVT.

The Hudson through 1950 offered the Drivemaster transmisison which did what you are suggesting. Hudson abandoned this system in 1951 and bought the HydraMatic automatic transmisison from GM. The Packard through the 1950 model offered an electric clutch. However, its fully automatic Ultramatic transmission replaced the electrically operated clutch. Cord in the 1930s had a system whereby the driver preselected the gears.
As for me, I either want a fully automatic transmission or a manual transmission with a clutch. I don’t want anything in between. When I was driving age, my parents had a 1952 Dodge with the “lift and clunk” semi-automatic transmission. One had to use the clutch to select low range, driving range or reverse. Once in driving range, the car was accelerated to about 15 mph and then the accelerator was released and the car “clunked” into top gear. It was painfully slow. My dad decided that a manual transmission was better and our next car was a 1954 Buick with a 3 speed manual transmission.

@keith, no I haven’t taken a manual transmission apart, but I’ve see a manual transmission in parts. There’s a lot of interlocking gears, shafts, and bearings, inside a metal box, but it’s all pretty simple to understand mechanical stuff individually. Just a lot of it. The automatic I saw in parts, easy to understand? Not so much.

But the question isn’t so much what they look like. It is how reliable they are proven to be. I’ve seen the complete list of TSB’s on my early 90’s Corolla, and there’s a lot more dealing with the automatic transmission than with the manual transmission. In fact I don’t even recall a single TSB for the manual transmission. The are multiple references in the TSB list to the automatic.

The problem is all the additional mechanisms needed to ‘automate’ a manual. They initially tried doing it with a single clutch, but that proved to be rough, so most all now use dual clutches.

For a timely example of how it’s not ‘simple’ by any means, just read this recent post:

@GeorgeSanJose–Despite the complexity of the automatic transmission, back in the late 1950s through the 1960s, many mechanics recommended staying away from the 3 speed column shift manual transmissions and going with the automatic. These transmissions were designed in the 1930s in many cases and not up to handling the more powerful engines of the mid 1950s and later. Also, the column shift linkage didn’t work well in many cars. The 4 speed floor shift was a different story–it was built for heavy duty use. The common wisdom in the 1960s and 1970s was to go with the automatic with an American car and the manual with an import.
One of the worst transmissions in an import was the “automatic stick shift” offered in the VW Beetle in the late 1960s. It was quite troublesome.

I think it was 1959 that my neighbor had a 49 Desoto or something as a temporary car. It had basically a centrifical clutch so you could just shift it without the clutch. Don’t know how long they lasted, obviously replaced by the torqueflight.

@Triedaq – Related question: Is there any significant difference then between an automatic transmission with a center console shifter and an automatic with the column shifter???

Example, until this year Chevy Impalas with automatic transmissions could be had with a column shifter in the entry level LS model and some mid-level LT models while all other models came with the center console floor shifter.

Only difference is the column shifter is now extinct in cars, as far as I know.

Thank you Texases. Do you happen to know if there is a mechanical reason for that?

The hydraulics in an automatic transmission actually take much more abuse then the gearing and clutch in a manual. As complicated looking as they are, they are evolutionary in design, each built on the success of the previously one. CVT s are the next transmission until the EV makes all of them a thing of the past.

The old air-cooled VW Beetles were available with the Automatic Stick option which was a manual 3 speed with a clutch, torque converter, fluid tank, and sans clutch pedal.

Automated manual transmissions have been around for about a decade now, they are found primarily in high end exotics. Ferrari has them on every model they make now.

The dual clutch manumatics (as they’re sometimes known) seem to work well enough from the best makes. Porsche’s are reputedly very, very good. The main complaint has been jerky low-speed shifts, but the better ones seem to have that licked. Between those and CVTs I don’t think there will be many plain old automatics in a few years. The Japanese seem to prefer CVTs, and the Europeans manumatics. Ford is going for manumatics mostly. A good one of either sort seems to gain a little efficiency, and with all the makes trying to squeeze out that last little bit, I can’t see them not going one way or the other. I like the simplicity and high gear ratio range of a CVT, but reliability worries me. A manumatic is straightforward enough.

Several makes offered semi-automatics. The two-speed Hondamatic was a crude one, made into the eighties. My brother who drove a paper route loved Civics of that era. He rarely drove over 20mph, so the Hondamatic worked fine. Used ones were super cheap, too. No one wanted them.

Believe it or not, gas is more expensive in China than the States. There are quite a bit of economy cars offered with single clutch automated manual as an option. Of course they are rough in lower gears, but they are economy cars and fuel mileage takes precedence over smooth gear changes

I would buy one if I absolutely have to drive an automatic