“Manual Transmission Foils Car Theft” is a headline we write all too often, and now Volkswagen has taken advantage of America’s stick shift incompetence to advertise its Jetta GLI’s manual transmission as a security feature. So just leave your manual car unlocked, the commercial suggests. It’ll be fineeee. Maybe.
Would I leave my manual transmission vehicle unlocked simply because most Americans can’t operate a manual gearbox? No, definitely not. The only reasons why I sometimes keep my cars unlocked is that there’s nothing in them worth stealing and they themselves are shitboxes that nobody has any interest in.
The latter is not the case with the GLI, and even if it were, leaving a car unlocked instead of just pressing the dang button on the key fob is not a great practice. After all, thieves can be ruthless. They’ll probably take whatever they can find, be it your delicious half-eaten gas station sandwich, your child’s artwork that you planned on hanging from the fridge, or even your floor mats. And given enough time and desperation, I bet some could ride your clutch and grind through gears well enough to get down the road. In the world of theft, there are no rules.
For those reasons, I would not heed the “advice” that VW dishes out in this commercial:
The commercial reaches its climax at a scene in which VW’s new and fun (according to my coworker Jason Torchinsky) Jetta GLI parks at a curb, and the passenger says to the driver as they both walk away from the vehicle: “Aren’t you going to lock the car?”
The driver responds: “Naw, it’s a stick shift.” The commercial then cuts to an image of the six-speed shifter and then goes back to the two characters. “What are you talking about?... You 100 percent about that?” replies the passenger. “Positive,” the driver answers, confidently.
Obviously, the commercial isn’t really telling folks to leave their manual transmission cars unlocked. And in fact, for about three seconds, a disclaimer pops up on the bottom of the video, reading: “Legally we have to tell you that you should always lock your car, so you should lock your car.”
VW has a history of quirky ads. I talked with my coworker and VW expert Jason Torchinsky, and he told me that, like old VW ads, this commercial relies on an “unspoken trust” with the viewer. Shown above, Volkswagen called its Beetle a Lemon in one ad, but relied on readers to continue to the text below to see that, in fact, the car was anything but.
It’s risky, as someone who just glances at the ad may get the wrong idea, just as someone who nonchalantly watches this Jetta GLI commercial might get the wrong idea (that idea being leaving their car unlocked). In reality, the commercial isn’t literal: VW is just pointing out that stick shifts are awesome, and being part of the exclusive group of folks who operate them is equally awesome.
In Europe and in many other countries, the commercial would make no sense whatsoever. But in the U.S., where the manual transmission is spiraling towards the deep pit of extinction, it’s funny. Bad “advice,” but funny.