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Switching gears: Drivers increasingly choosing automatic cars to navigate Cairo's traffic.

CAIRO: Cairo's drivers are no strangers to the manual transmission. Most learned to drive on manual cars and, up until recently, choose manual over automatic when purchasing a car.

The shift in preference from manual to automatic has been gradual, but has spiked over the past three years as Cairo's traffic grows increasingly worse. On today's streets, stop and go traffic is the norm -- not the exception -- and drivers are eager for anything that will make their driving time easier.Aa

"The number one reason people are choosing automatic transmissions when they buy a new car is the traffic issue; no one wants to be stuck driving a manual in gridlock," said Mohamed El-Kamony of El-Kamony Automotive.

Manual mishaps

Besides ease in navigating traffic, automatic devotees cite safety and comfort as major reasons for choosing an automatic transmission.

"I used to drive a manual. I was attending AUC, so it was really difficult driving in heavy traffic downtown. Now I have an automatic and I feel much more relaxed driving in Cairo," said economics student Mohamed Hesham.

Still, some cars are made to be driven manually.

"Driving automatic is generally better, but it would be ridiculous to buy a really nice sports car or something like that in an automatic -- some cars are just supposed to be driven manually," insisted Hesham. Aa Safety concerns

Although the benefits of driving an automatic in Cairo's traffic are clear, opinions differ on whether a manual or automatic transmission is safer on the streets.

"Driving an automatic doesn't take any skill; with a manual transmission you are more in control of what you are doing and you are forced to concentrate on driving. People who drive automatics are preoccupied with talking on the phone and are much less focused on the road," said El-Kamony.

"But on the other hand, automatics are easier to drive all around, so they might be safer for less skilled drivers who have trouble maneuvering in traffic and don't need the extra responsibility of manual driving," he conceded. Aa Despite their relatively decreasing popularity, manual transmissions are still recognized as being more fuel efficient, cheaper to buy and more powerful.

"The only thing I miss about driving a manual is being able to control the power of the car -- that and I spend more on gas with the automatic," said Hesham.

Economic efficiency

For people who drive for a living, such as taxi drivers, fuel efficiency and price are major concerns.

"Of course it would be nice to have an automatic in all this traffic, but manual cars are cheaper and take less gas, which is important to me," said taxi driver Adel Ramadan.

While taxi drivers may have to wait to take advantage of the benefits of automatic driving, Mohamed El-Kamony insists that buying an automatic car isn't as expensive as some people think.

"In reality, automatic cars are only about LE 2,000-5,000 more expensive than manual cars. For someone who can afford a new car, this amount isn't a huge deterrent," he said.

With the demand for automatics growing, the price gap can be expected to decrease further in coming years -- a relief for younger consumers tight on cash, but desperate to drive automatic.

"Right now, younger drivers are still driving manuals more frequently because they got their parents' old car, or didn't want to spend extra for an automatic, but this will change soon as the price difference narrows," assured El-Kamony.

Control factor

For devotees of the manual transmission, however, driving an automatic simply isn't "real driving."

"Even though driving a manual is tiring, it's nice to feel in control of the car and it makes driving more interesting," said Ramadan.

For those whose lives have moved out to the desert where open roads abound, some nostalgia for the "old way" of driving remains.

"Now that university is out in the desert I think it would be fun to have the manual car back; I would feel more in control driving on the highway with a manual car," said Hesham.

No turning back

Cairo's drivers are increasingly sold on the benefits of automatic driving, a trend that is reflected in the selection available at Cairo's dealerships.

"We used to stock manuals and automatics 50-50, but in the past three years this has changed and we've had to adjust our inventory to meet the growing demand for automatic transmissions," said El-Kamony.

With Cairo's traffic getting worse every year, it seems that automatics are here to stay for better or for worse.

"Automatic cars have a lot of advantages, but I worry that people who grow up learning to drive on an automatic won't get the skills they need to be a good driver in Cairo. So I hope that even if people choose to drive automatics they will still learn on a manual transmission just for the experience," concluded El-Kamony.

Daily NewsEgypt 2007

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Publication:Daily News Egypt (Egypt)
Date:Oct 22, 2008
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