Larry P. Vellequette
Larry P. Vellequette
Chrysler Group reporter

Time to raise the white flag on dual clutch trannies

Chrysler's decision to use a dual clutch transmission from parent Fiat for the Dodge Dart has been less than a rousing success.
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This is a historic week for white flags in Detroit, given the city's bankruptcy filing Thursday, so I'm going to suggest that domestic automakers take the opportunity to wave one of their own.

It's time to give up trying to convince Americans to drive dual clutch transmissions.

Like the continuously variable transmission, or CVT, dual clutch transmissions make great sense on paper. They are as easy to operate as a traditional automatic, yet deliver much of the same efficiency benefit as a manual transmission.

Dual clutch transmissions were developed in Europe. They date back decades and work like a pair of manual transmissions operating in tandem -- one with the odd-numbered gears, another with the even.

But like CVTs, dual dry clutch transmissions just don't sound right or feel right to American drivers.

From the time we were toddlers, we knew that an accelerating car went "vvrroom [pause] vrooooooooom [pause] vvrrrooooooooooooom," and so on.

Don't believe me? Try right now to mimic the sound of a car with a dual dry clutch transmission. Go ahead. Even if you own one, you probably can't do it -- it's just not the natural sound that's been programmed into your brain.

That internal conflict -- expecting to hear and feel one thing and experiencing something else entirely -- might wear off over several years. But in the confines of a test drive or the first few months of ownership? It's an irritant, and a noisy one at that.

A Fiat dual dry clutch transmission.

Ford Motor Co.'s attempt to bring dual clutch transmissions from Europe in the Fiesta subcompact was met with complaints from consumers and some reviewers. Similarly, Chrysler brought in a dual clutch transmission from parent Fiat for the Dodge Dart. It, too, was less than a rousing success.

So far General Motors has resisted the torque converter-less allure of the dual clutch siren, but who knows how long before temptation gets the better of GM's product planners?

As uneconomical as it is to admit, Americans are not Europeans. Our roads are different. Our driving habits are different. We're fatter; less refined, perhaps. But we're also more honest with ourselves when something isn't working.

And in America, at least for the vehicles carrying a domestic brand, dual clutches aren't working.

You can reach Larry P. Vellequette at lvellequette@crain.com.

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