Your email: How many gears is too many?

Bob R. wonders if carmakers are putting more gears in cars just to say they did.

Brian Cooley Editor at Large
Brian Cooley is CNET's Editor at large and has been with the brand since 1995. He currently focuses on electrification of vehicles but also follows the big trends in smart home, digital healthcare, 5G, the future of food, and augmented & virtual realities. Cooley is a sought after presenter by brands and their agencies when they want to understand how consumers react to new technologies. He has been a regular featured speaker at CES, Cannes Lions, Advertising Week and the Publicis HealthFront. He was born and raised in Silicon Valley when Apple's campus was mostly apricots.
Expertise Automotive technology, smart home, digital health. Credentials
  • 5G Technician, ETA International
Brian Cooley
Watch this: 12-speed transmission: Cool or crazy?

Is the 12-speed transmission far off? Ford, GM and Toyota all have 10-speeds that came fast on the heels of 7, 8 and 9-speed transmissions. It seems like a geared arms race. But we are probably hitting a useful limit, not unlike the way digital cameras found their "enough is enough" level of megapixels.

Cooley explains that there is a limit at which point adding more gears ceases to deliver any noticeable improvement in your engine's ability to run at its sweet spot while you drive, which is the reason for more gears. (And since all these mega-geared transmissions are automatic, there sure isn't any added fun factor.)

But the biggest threat to cars with even more gears is hybridization, where electric motors handle an increasingly wide range of driving scenarios and the gas engine only has to kick in when its power and RPM range is naturally efficient.

The "save the manuals" crowd has nothing to be happy about in all this: Cars with a clutch are permanently on the fringe from here on out, not because they aren't a proven and reliable technology, but because they introduce the vagaries of human decision making into a vehicle that is increasingly being run by computers for efficiency and performance.