The 2018 Ram 2500 was the last American pickup truck you could get a manual transmission with. This was definitely the end of an era because there was a time when you could only get a pickup with a manual transmission. As these were for farm or business use they were not expected to be anything other than an appliance. You don’t need fancy extras with an appliance.
Before a pickup truck’s function was to become a de-facto car as it is today, it was virtually never used strictly as transportation. These were machines on the farm, jobsite, or used for delivering appliances, lumber, or hauling junk. A pickup was usually indispensable for whatever function it was purchased for.
A Pickup Was Like A Tractor
They didn’t have to be plush, come in many colors, or provide options like air conditioning, power steering, or automatic transmissions. They were viewed in the same way as a tractor. My, how times have changed.
In order to get some of the features we’ve come to expect in our Silverados and Raptors, we had to wait until the 1960s. That’s when truck manufacturers realized they could make more money with the more options a truck had.
Pickup Manual Transmissions Start Dropping
By 2008 GM dropped the manual transmission option in both of its GMC and Chevy pickups. Ford followed with its Super Dutys in 2011. Why?
Part of the reason is that newer engines have more torque, and automatic transmissions are capable of handling that torque. Manual transmission clutches have a harder time withstanding the abuse coming from a torquey engine. The other reason is that automatic transmissions are “easier on the equipment.”
You’ll hear fleet owners use that term for the reason they purchase heavy-duty trucks with automatics. The automatics shift and downshift smoothly, eliminating the wear and tear on drivelines from banging through the gears as many drivers tend to do.
As the advantages to automatic transmissions became more apparent, and as how and why a pickup was used changed, car-like conveniences and features started to come into demand.
First Automatic-First Air Conditioning In Trucks
In 1965 GM offered the first factory air conditioning in Chevy (not GMC) pickup trucks. The first automatic in a GM pickup was in 1954 with the four-speed Hydramatic that was also found in Cadillacs and Oldsmobiles. By 1967 when the all-new Chevy and GMC pickups were launched, interiors had improved. More levels of optional equipment began to appear in order books and on dealership lots.
Manual transmissions in pickups used to be considered more economical. With the advent of automatics featuring up to 10 different ratios, that changed. The driver could now experience torque in lower gears when they need them, and higher gears as speeds increase. This allows the engines to stay within a certain RPM band and not have to gulp gasoline to keep up. So now the economy argument is gone. Thus, so is the manual transmission.
Sometimes customers don’t know why demand veers in one direction or another. The manufacturers try to forecast what those demands will be. Ultimately manufacturers make what the customers want because that’s how you move the iron. If you don’t make what they want, you won’t sell what you make.