Why the Full-Size Truck's Manual Transmission Is Dead

headstone in the grass stating full-size pickup manual transmission rest in peace
Cars.com illustration by Paul Dolan; @justinconnor via Twenty20

By Matthew Barnes

With the 2019 Ram heavy-duty trucks abandoning the G56 six-speed, the manual transmission is gone from full-size trucks. Many tears have been shed by enthusiasts; manual transmissions in pickup trucks used to be the less expensive, stronger, more efficient and more reliable compared with their automatic counterparts. What led to the manual transmission's demise?

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As the torque wars wage on, engine output surpassed the capability of manual-transmission clutches. GM dropped the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra's manual transmission by 2008, followed by Ford for the 2011 Super Duties and then Ram HDs for the 2019 model year. With new buyers opting more and more for automatic transmissions, investing research and development time and money into manuals stopped paying off.

Sure, truckmakers could easily design a strong and smooth-shifting manual transmission with a heavy clutch to handle today's torque outputs, but the demand is so small, it's not worth the investment.

How Automatics Took Over

Automatic-transmission efficiency has vastly improved and the likelihood of overheating significantly decreased. We were happy to see GM's new Allison 10-speed automatic transmission can lock the torque converter clutch in 1st gear, helping to keep the transmission cool.

Improvements have been made in fluids, materials and design, making automatic transmissions so strong and reliable that there are no longer worries about using them in heavy-load conditions. Today, automatics are often preferred in heavy-load applications for their ability to quickly and smoothly upshift and downshift while pulling heavy loads uphill or slowing the vehicle when descending grades. Many also automatically downshift to provide engine braking when the brake pedal is pressed.

Automatic transmissions are also typically easier on the rest of the drivetrain than manuals. With the slip allowed in the torque converter, automatics aren't as likely to jerk and cause shock loads to the drive shafts and axles as much as someone dropping the clutch on a manual. This, paired with quick upshifts and downshifts, makes an automatic great for towing and off-road purposes (aside from low-speed crawling).

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The main reason automatics have taken over, however, is demand. Demand for manual transmissions is so low that the expense of research and development, meeting regulations and having a supply chain costs manufacturers more to make and maintain than they are worth. With automatics now the norm in the U.S. truck market, more time and money is allocated to developing superior automatic transmissions to meet customer demands.

There's still room for improvement, but manufacturers have done well with modern automatic transmissions.

Why We'll Miss the Manual

Manual transmissions have fewer parts and a simpler design than their automatic counterparts. Having a simple design means that there are fewer pieces that can fail, less maintenance requirements, and an easier assembly and disassembly process.

During the 1990s and early 2000s, diesel engines with manual transmissions offered increased power outputs over the optional automatics. The manual excelled for heavy work since automatics hadn't improved to the point where they are today. Automatics were more likely to overheat and have other issues, especially when used heavily. And for off-road driving, 1st gear in a four-wheel-drive low range can be a huge benefit for slow off-road maneuvers. Climbing a boulder in an automatic can require significant throttle input, causing the vehicle to lurch forward once the top of the boulder is reached, which isn't an issue with a manual transmission.

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... But Most Won't

While losing the manual transmission is sad for many of us, automatics have improved so much over the years that it's no longer a viable option for manufacturers to offer them in full-size trucks. Both transmissions have their pros and cons, but the market will go where there's demand.

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