Unnoticed by most people there has been a quiet revolution among India’s cars. Today, almost every car maker is offering automatic transmissions to the top-end versions of their cars.
Even small cars like the Maruti Celerio and Hyundai i10 now offer an automatic variant. Believe it or not there are today about 50 models of cars that offer automatic gears.
According to Maruti, the sales of automatic gearboxes on their cheaper models today accounts for about 40 per cent of the sales but they report that the demand is growing fast.
As these automatics are usually only on the top end models they are definitely more expensive than the base models with manual gears.
Most people still think that automatic transmissions are not only expensive but heavy of fuel and not very reliable but new technologies are closing the gaps very quickly.
Till recently, typical car with automatic gears would consume about 15 per cent higher fuel but that is no longer the case.
Take the case of BMW, which demonstrated the performance of two nearly identical cars with manual and automatic gearboxes and showed that the little microchips in the automatic was able to shift the gears better than top professional drivers.
The early automatics had fluid drives that allowed great gear slippage and only had three gears.
Modern automatics have six or more gears and some that are continuously variable with no gears at all.
It is amazing how quickly the luxuries of today become the necessities of tomorrow.
Forty years ago an air-conditioner was considered to be an expensive luxury but today it is almost impossible to sell any car without an AC.
Whatever happens in the auto world abroad eventually become popular in India. America, Japan and east Asia quickly adopted automatics that Europe and UK resisted for many years but today most cars and even commercial vehicles have automatic transmissions.
In the increasingly hectic traffic of every city of the world an automatic transmission makes driving hugely easier.
The driver now just has to look at the road ahead and press the accelerator and brakes without having to shuffle the gears or pump the clutch pedal several times a minute.
Honda first introduced the continuously variable transmission that is a hi-tech steel link belt between a set of tapered rollers that links the engine speeds to the load on the wheels for jerk-free driving. It is also cheaper than a conventional automatic.
India’s less expensive cars have opted for another low-cost technology called the Automated Manual Transmission that is an ingenious electronic box that sits on top of a conventional manual gearbox and shifts the gears according to the commands of a set of sensors and microchips.
Technology drives more technology and all the top-end cars have many refinements so that the sensors can prevent a car rolling back while climbing a hilly road or freewheeling too fast on a downslope.
Many transmission systems are also interconnected with brakes, suspensions and steering for safe and comfortable driving.
They forget that easier driving is also safer driving and that there are far fewer jerks in a car with automatic gears that respond to the bumps of the road.
However, it will not be very long before it will be considered very non chic to be in any car without automatic gears.