Wow, I thought, a world first and then I realised what I was reading was another example of the art of journalism dying a slow death.
Yesterday the Australian Financial Review (AFR) published an article in print entitled “Manual cars to become a rarity as frayed commuters drop the clutch” and online it was called “Manual cars face extinction as congestion triggers a clutch backlash”. The premise of the article was about the fact that in Australia, more automatic cars are sold each year than manuals. This has been happening for years as many younger drivers take a driving test with an automatic instead of a manual: there are two types of licences here that correlate to your skill with or without a manual gearbox. In the print edition it was suggested that buyers would prefer to pay $2,000 more per car for a manual transmission because of road congestion. Buyers didn’t want to change gear themselves: “it can be a pain” the article said. Clearly dealers were shifting more automatics and putting a premium on manuals.
The article stated that within a few years only very high end sports cars would be manual and be built to order and that only 13% of new car sales in 2014 had a manual gearbox fitted. A spokesman for the NRMA (National Roads and Motorists Association) said that many automatics now have better fuel consumption that a manual – I dispute that, I believe that this isn’t from the vehicle but the ability of the driver. My experience with automatics is that they change gear too soon and often coming out of corners when the power is applied which can unsettle a car and could be potentially dangerous. If drivers were taught how to drive properly, then the manual would certainly be more frugal.
Then came the statement that really suggested that the journalistic art has received another nail in the coffin: “But the clutch is gone”. The article cited the Ferrari “no-clutch” system that the driver flicks a button and a computer changes gear. It is called a “robotised” manual transmission. Porsche is cited as saying that sales of their 7-ratio gearbox has dropped significantly and that Honda do not even offer a manual on their HRV – not quite in the same league as a Porsche or Ferrari and a vehicle for a completely different mode of use, i.e. a passenger-utility-commuting vehicle as opposed to a full on sports machine.
In days of old, a journalist would research a topic before putting pen to paper (or finger to keyboard). They would look at the topic of the story and research the background and then write the story. Depending on the publication, it might loosely use the facts, however for an established quality media outlet, the article written would be polished and informative. Not anymore it seems.
Lets take the simplest failure of the AFR article: the button. One does not flick a button: you press a button and flick a switch (or paddle). A button is typically embedded in a dashboard so you can’t get your finger around it!
The worst crime committed by the journalist was that statement about the clutch. Clearly no research had been done to find out what a clutch is (or does). If you remove the clutch from between the engine and transmission two things can happen:
1. The engine will not be able to start without the vehicle moving – a rolling start for example. The weight of the vehicle will prevent the engine turning over, so no fuel/air mixture can get in to the cylinders.
2. Once moving, the vehicle will not stop properly because the engine cannot disengage from the driving wheels. In this instance, when you arrive at a stop light, the engine will fight the brakes and will then probably stall or at worse push the car into oncoming traffic. On a flat surface after a stall, go to point 1 above!
The clutch is there to split the power from the drive train and is an essential part of the vehicle! Every non-electric car will have a clutch no matter if the transmission is manual, fully automatic or semi-automatic using technology derived from racing aka the F1 inspired electronics in a Ferrari or other high end sports machine.
Electric cars can regulate the power and drive in a different way, in some cases each wheel has an electric motor and it is the motor that acts as both an accelerator and decelerator. The electronics simply define which direction the electricity flows.
So, my grumble is complete. It is sad that today’s journalists of even a quality paper such as the AFR cannot spend time to research their topics more thoroughly before they go to print (or publish online). I see a lot of examples where an article is inaccurate and this doesn’t help the reader to understand the focus of the topic being discussed or at worse provides incorrect information. I have made mistakes in the past as well and have been corrected which I used as a learning exercise, however today I am not a professional journalist and I feel that a professional should be just that.