Focused Automobiles and Car Buyers
I've spent quite a bit of time behind the wheel of a Scion FR-S lately. The small coupe (and its twin, the Subaru BRZ) ticks nearly all the boxes for car guys. It is rear-wheel drive, inexpensive, beautifully balanced, and comes standard with a proper manual gearbox. No surprise, journalists went nuts over the Japanese sports car at the press launch. Based upon the subsequent reviews, you'd think the FR-S and BRZ would be nearly impossible to find on dealer lots. That's not quite the case. Last year, the Fiat 500 (not including the 500L) outsold by 8920 units the Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ, combined.
The two sports cars linger on dealer lots like that other favorite of automotive journalists, the diesel-powered, manual gearbox station wagon with cloth seats.
Because, you know, only idiots buy SUVs and American buyers would adore cloth seats if they just tried them. Many journalists would love for that to be true but it's quite clear why the U.S. market is no longer blessed with wagon versions of the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, BMW 5-Series, Audi A4, Audi A6, or Subaru Legacy (yes, I'm ignoring the crossover-like Audi Allroad and Subaru Outback). We are bereft of this plethora of wagons simply because Americans don't buy wagons—especially peasant-spec versions equipped with hand-shaker gearboxes.
I love wagons. We own one, and my lovely wife wouldn't trade it for the world. It would be wonderful if all of the above wagons were still sold in America - at least Volvo is selling its V60 here -- but auto journalists need a reality check.
Sitting at dinner on a press trip last month, a fellow journalist tried to convince a bored engineer that his American brand should offer cloth seats on its latest midsize luxury sedan. Then the diesel conversation started, followed by the manual transmission rant. Luckily, the server interrupted the warped journalist for his entrée order before the inevitable wagon conversion began.
Ironically, American automakers are now carrying the torch for manual transmissions. Porsche abandoned the manual on the latest 911 GT3 for the PDK twin-clutch automatic, only. Ferrari abandoned third pedals altogether a few years ago. On the dwindling BMW models that actually offer the choice, an automatic comes standard and you need to tick a box to get a manual (usually at no extra cost). Over at Chevrolet, the new supercharged Corvette Z06 will offer a seven-speed manual and the Camaro Z/28 is only built with a six-speed manual. Ford's Focus ST and Fiesta ST, and the Dodge Viper are all manual-only. USA! USA! USA!
We can only hope Porsche fixes things for row-it-yourself fanatics with the rumored Cayman GT4. The spy photos reveal a quicker Cayman to trump the recently released GTS model. I hope they use the GT4 as an opportunity to bring focused buyers back into Porsche showrooms, buyers who may have left due to PDK-only models like the 911 GT3.
But would a manual gearbox option for the Cayman GT4 be successful? A random search for 2013-2014 Porsche 911 models on eBay turned up one hundred cars, but only twenty-two of them were equipped with manual gearboxes. That's actually a bit more than I would have guessed. The same search for a 2013-2014 BMW 3-Series revealed thirteen manuals in 244 cars. It's enough to make a car geek cry.
I hope Porsche seizes the opportunity to keep true enthusiasts happy by offering the Cayman GT4 with a manual gearbox. Even if it ultimately hits the German company's bottom line because development costs outweigh the take rate, it would sure help car guys think of Porsche as more than just a builder of SUVs and questionably styled sedans. Perhaps there could even be special dealerships that would gather unsold manual Cayman GT4 models with Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ leftovers.