Manual transmissions have fallen out of favor with mainstream buyers, but hardcore enthusiasts aren't giving up on them. So surely BMW's M division, maker of performance cars that specifically target the enthusiast market, will be a safe haven for the clutch pedal for the time being.

Or maybe not. Recent improvements in the performance of automatic transmissions and the proliferation of dual-clutch gearboxes could soon spell the end of manuals at BMW M, the division's chief claims. Current enthusiasm among buyers may be the only thing keeping them in production.

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"From a technical standpoint, the future doesn't look bright for manual gearboxes. The DCT and auto 'boxes are faster and they have better fuel consumption," BMW M chief Frank van Meel said in a recent interview with Autocar.

Number-focused engineers are increasingly turning to automated transmissions for performance improvements, and stricter global emissions standards mean fuel economy is a concern even for sporty cars.

BMW is still one of the champions of the manual among luxury carmakers, offering them in most of its mainstream and M models. However, there's nothing to stop it from eliminating the option in models--like the M5 sedan--where it may seem less justifiable. It may come down to whether buyers continue to vote for manuals with their wallets.

"It's difficult to say we'll stick to the manual," van Meel said, "but we still have a big fan community for manuals and we are not going to take away something the customer wants to have."

Van Meel also said that 600 horsepower will be the limit for future M cars. While Cadillac is set to roll out the 640-hp 2016 CTS-V, the M chief said anything more would be pushing things too far.

That means the next M5 will likely match the 600-hp output of the 30 Jahre M5 special edition and the recently-upgraded competition package versions of the current M5 and M6. It's expected to use an upgraded version of the 4.4-liter twin-turbocharged V-8 from the current M5, and arrive in calendar-year 2017 as a 2018 model.


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