The embellishments, made of plastic or metal, are now attached to steering wheels or columns of more than 200 vehicles this year, compared with fewer than 70 in 2007, according to data from Edmunds.com, an automotive research firm. From Acura to Volvo, the paddles are standard equipment in most cases, or they can be added as an option. Some Mini Coopers have paddles, and they do show up in every automatic-equipped Audi and Mercedes-Benz sold in the United States.
For many carmakers, especially those that offer vehicles with sporting pretensions, paddle shifters are sort of the automotive equivalent of keeping up with the Joneses. But their usefulness during a commute is questionable.
Nick Richards, the product development communications manager for General Motors, said the data was clear: “Our research shows that customers with paddles use them rarely, with more than 62 percent saying they use them less than twice a year. When customers do use them, 55 percent say that it is for sporty driving situations.”