The biggest news from Porsche at the 2017 Frankfurt Motor Show was the 911 GT3 Touring Package, a special-edition GT3 with no rear wing and, crucially, a manual transmission as the only available gearbox. The stick-shift GT3 Touring follows in the footsteps of the hyper-limited-edition 911R, which mixed GT3 and GT3 RS hardware and paired a 500-horse, naturally-aspirated engine to a six-speed manual.
The GT3 Touring will be available in greater numbers, and will undoubtedly be easier to buy than the 911R. And its existence owes in large part to the continued enthusiasm for manuals in the U.S. market.
"What we learned with [the 911R] is that we in America are carrying the flag for the manual transmission. It’s still very, very relevant and there’s a huge demand for it," Joe Lawrence, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Porsche Cars North America, told me at the Frankfurt Motor Show. "PDK is awesome, everybody knows that you’re faster in the PDK on a race track, but there’s still a real purist demand amongst enthusiasts for the manual transmission."
Lawrence pointed out that demand for the Cayman GT4 and the 911R—both manual-only machines—opened up the automaker to the idea of a stick-shift GT3. And our market in particular continues to feed the demand for three-pedal Porsches.
"The U.S., with our size, our volume, and I think a vocal group of supporters for the manual transmission—I think it’s fair to say it’s a U.S.-led proposition," Lawrence said.
"When you look at true sports car enthusiasts, some are about getting the absolute pinnacle of technology and the fastest possible lap time, but there’s another, equally large group [...] more about the visceral experience, whether that’s on the Tail of the Dragon or on the track," Lawrence continued. "There’s a real vocal group there. Even on the regular 911s, although they’ve diminished quite a bit because of the brilliance of PDK, we do tend to have higher order rates of the manual on the regular 911s than you would see in most other cars." The executive says around 20 to 25 percent of 911 Carrera 2 models are ordered with a stick-shift, with an even higher proportion of 718 Boxster and Cayman buyers opting for the three-pedal arrangement. "I would say directionally we’re trending even higher than that with the GT3," he said.
So, American Porsche buyers, give yourselves a pat on the back. Your steadfast dedication to the beloved manual transmission is helping keep it alive at Porsche. But how much demand does Porsche need to see to keep justifying the development of stick-shifts? "Whether it’s federalizing, or engineering capacity, that’s always a question," Lawrence said. "And so far, we’re at a level where it continues to make sense for us, and we’re always carrying the flag for the manual transmission, and I think we’ll continue to see it on the two-door sports cars for the foreseeable future."