Sales of new manual-transmission cars are up significantly this year, on pace to hit the highest rate of stick shifts sold since 2006. That news must put smiles on the faces of the dwindling breed of drivers who prefer stick shift over automatic. But the happiness might be short-lived, as analysts predict manual transmission will basically disappear over the next couple of decades.
In 1987, 29.1% of new vehicles sold in the U.S. were manual transmission, according to the EPA. By 2010, however, the rate had fallen to just 3.8%.
It appears as though something of a stick-shift renaissance has since occurred, with 5.1% of new cars being manual last year. And a new report from Edmunds.com indicates that stick shifts are on pace to account for roughly 7% of cars sold in 2012.
It was in the stick-shift sales doldrums of 2010 that Eddie Alterman, the editor of Car and Driver, launched Save the Manuals, a movement (or “crusade,” in his words) to teach more young drivers how to drive stick and lobby automakers to produce more manual-transmission vehicles. Car and Driver has since added a regular feature in which readers must “name that shifter” after looking at a photo of a stick shift. A line of Save the Manuals T-shirts and pins is available for sale as well.
Supporters of the movement must be pleased with what seems to be a comeback for the stick shift. Through the first quarter of 2012, 6.5% of new cars were manual, and the rate of sticks sold has risen slightly since then. The manual could be on its way to being saved.
Except it’s not. The Edmunds post lists several misconceptions about stick shifts, starting with the idea that they get better mileage than automatics. Edmunds clarifies:
Vehicles with manual transmissions generally are always more fuel-efficient than their automatic counterparts, but not always, and not by much.
The 2012 Honda Fit and the 2012 Ford Focus are examples of vehicles that can get better fuel economy with an automatic transmission.
Stick shifts aren’t necessarily less expensive than their automatic counterparts either. It’s because of these reasons, as well as larger trends, that experts say the manual transmission is supposedly doomed:
“A combination of factors – from the growing age of vehicle trade-ins bringing more manual drivers back to market, to a greater proportion of smaller cars on the road – is creating a small spike for stick shifts,” says Edmunds.com industry analyst Ivan Drury. “But even though manual cars are on the rise now, they’re on track to be virtually extinct in the next 15 to 20 years.”
The rise of stick-shift sales, then, isn’t so much a growing trend as a blip in the opposite trend that’s been in the works for decades: the push toward manual-transmission extinction.