Talking Trucks Tuesday: A Paradigm Shift?

Raptor shifterMW2 II

By G.R. Whale

For decades, pickup truck owners changed gears by using a lever mounted in the floor or on the steering column along with a clutch. But manual shifters have lost traction with consumers and automakers due to cost, electronic efficiencies and good old American traffic, making automatic transmissions more popular. So today's question is: How will you shift your next pickup?

For do-it-yourself enthusiasts, only the mid-size pickups — except the Honda Ridgeline — and Ram heavy-duty diesels offer a manual transmission. Pickups with manual transmissions usually cost less and some folks find them easier to work on. Insurance actuaries should offer premium discounts for them as anti-theft devices because fewer drivers know how to use a manual transmission.

Most U.S. pickups come standard with an automatic. Gear shifters can be found on the steering column or on the center control panel with mechanisms ranging from levers to rotating knobs to thumb switches to paddles. And if cars are any indication, push-button gear shifters will be found on future pickups.

So looking to the future, what kind of gear shifter do you prefer? And how do you want it to perform? Do you want a lever? If you do, where should it be mounted and do you want a button release? Do you want to pick a gear directly or move the lever to manual first? Do you want shift paddles or buttons? Should software downshift the tranny one or two gears automatically when you switch from auto to manual? Just how much control do you want?

There's a lot to consider, so you better sound off in the comments section below before the truckmakers start making the decisions for you. graphic by Paul Dolan; manufacturer image



Totally agree about the trans. Back in the 1970s my boss bought a brand new John Deere diesel that had a feature like that. You'd never use that Deere to pull a plow through the back forty.

Instead it was perfect for loading big dump trucks and those drivers were always in a hurry. A very specific tool for the job. I drove that Deere hard but it never complained.

It would have been perfect for snow plowing, except the open cockpit would get cold fast in Michigan or Wisconsin.

@gms and papa.....spittin sputtering......crash......

I have no desire for a manual transmission. Shifting in traffic all the time would get old fast. I do like the autos that have the ability to be taken into manual mode. Every now and then it is best to put the truck in a certain gear and leave it there, some situations autos like to search for gears. Also, I love the console shifter. I have one on my Colorado. It's nearly perfect. The only thing I would change is to have the console shifter have a slot off to the side to activate manual mode where moving the stick up and down shifted the gears. Currently the the system is set up with an M mode with buttons on the stick for up and down.

One day we won't even need transmissions. Bring on electric and fuel cell Super Duties with 4,000 lb-ft of torque!

Electric is great, we have a bunch of hybrids and full electric vehicles at work here, all auto and tons of fun to drive.

Electric is great, we have a bunch of hybrids and full electric vehicles at work here, all auto and tons of fun to drive.


Where do you work? Toys R Us? Do your electric cars use D Cells or AA's?

OBVIOUSLY manual is far superior in a truck. But it aint coming back and that wasn't the question posed.

I agree with Papa Jim that other manufacturers especially luxery brands do a much better job designing shifters and their feel.

Honestly the best shifter input device is simple, clean, easy/intuitive use, fail safe, looks nice and takes up as little space as possible.

Push buttons or Fiat's dial are probably the best overall from a functional makes sense stance.

But we still have this "NEED" for physical input that translates into space wasting things like Ford's shaft in the console or dash obstructing levers on the column (pretty much everyone else).

While I miss the manual transmission and its shifter dearly I miss the manual 4x4 shifter even more.

I actually like paddle shifters it feels better than just pressing a button imo.

I prefer a manual but dealers do not like to stock them because they are harder to sell. As for automatics I prefer a column shift with a bench seat but those are becoming extinct as well. I have not driven an automatic with a dial. Chrysler had the push button drive from 1956 thru 1964. I hope the manufacturers don't get the bright idea of using a touch screen as a gear shifter--that would be over the top. Eventually there will be autonomous vehicles and the type of shifter will not matter. I guess that with electronic shifting it really doesn't matter to the manufacturers what type of shifter. I can see from the manufacturers view that a dial takes up less room.

I find it too hard to drink and drive using a manual transmission where driving an auto I just need one hand to drive and use the other hand to hold my coffee

the popularity of Start/Stop systems as a (supposed) means of achieving better FE will probably result in a greater emphasis on auto trans and hands free operation.

Hopefully one of the auto makers will buck the trend and offer manual trans options into the next decade.

Give me a five speed or a six speed stick with a single O/D high gear and I'm fine.

A manual transmission option in the 1/2 ton segment would be nice, but I doubt it will happen because of the added EPA emissions certifications.
As far as automatics are concerned, I like to keep it simple. A lever type shifter on either the floor or the steering column works best for me. Being able to shift manually is important so make it easy. Don't use small buttons on the shifter stalk or on the steering wheel. Too easy to "fat finger" and select the incorrect gear.
Something like the ERS in the Rams could work, except allow full control over up/downshifts instead of just limiting the gear range.


read the papers dude! The EPA is about to be downsized.

The new president has picked an EPA administrator who is dedicated to getting the EPA our of Detroit's hair. Thank God!

For what I don't wont....less automatic trans gears 6 speeds is enough....have a 2015 Ford Transit van with 6 speed....annoying constant shifts all the time...a/c comes on it wants to downshift....making start - start a option...road in vechicles with town and say fast food drive in...really bad to have engine constantly on and off...when at intersections...have to worry now....will it crank,..just wait when they get some age on them....already need battery in 2015 Transit van,,,,because with all the hi-tech I don't need....Ford failed to install or give option for cargo have a on -off switch at the doors and they stay on for a long time before they time out...have a 74 F 100 that has a cargo light you can cut off and on....and pay extra for a knob radio...despise the radio you have log on...has no am-fm fonts....

The lack of a manual option in the one ton (3500/350) market with a gas engine means that I will be restoring older trucks for the rest of my life. I have a simple philosophy - if they are not willing to build the truck configuration I need then I am not willing to buy the truck configuration they build.

The comments to this entry are closed.