Last Gasp for the Stick Shift?

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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.

(MORE: 10 Things You Should Be Buying Used)

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.

(MORE: Drivers Have Embraced Small Cars — Will Minicars Be Next?)

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.”

(MORE: Stick-Shift Extinction? The Battle to Save the Manual Transmission)

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.

Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

201 comments
Rototime
Rototime

Have your choice. Fact is the newest 8 speed automatics and the dual clutch versions (DSG, PDK,DCT) are faster and more fuel efficient than manuals. That's only true for the best (Porsche, BMW, Audi) so certainly in certain lower model cars that's not true. It's your choice whatever it is. Some people just prefer manuals.

marcod
marcod

Manual's DO NOT get lower MPG than their Automatic counterparts. You have to compare the same car.

You cannot compaire a Ford Fucus with an Audi S4 and say, "Blah blah the auto is better".  It's just BS propaganda.

marcod
marcod

This article is full of BS. It is taking a couple automatics that buck the norm. But the facts are:

1. Manuals transmissions are cheaper to replace

2. Manuals offer better gas mileage

I get 50mpg on the highway in my manual Jetta TDI. My friend who has the same model year TDI in an auto gets 44 on the highway.

xrs557
xrs557

The push towards automatic transmissions is nothing more then corporate greed as most auto transmissions are more expensive.  


Why is it many BMW's come with a manual transmission as standard equipment.  This article sounds like corporate propaganda to me.  Manual shift cars are quite common in europe.

rustylongwood
rustylongwood

As the population ages, stick will disappear. The current 40 year old may have hit driving age when stick was fairly common and learned to drive stick, but younger people today don't learn to drive a stick. When people start realizing the resale value of manuals is going to be hurt big time by the fact that no one else in the area wants to buy them, it'll start dropping off.

I tried in find a driving school that would teach me how to drive a manual last year. I had to call 8 schools in Philadelphia- 6 said they couldn't, 1 would, but I'd have to find a manual car (none of my friends had one) and the other one agreed, but there would be an extra $100 fee for the lessons.

Capt_Terock
Capt_Terock

I just bought my first stick shift, a 2002 Pontiac Sunfire. I have loved every minute of driving it. If I want to save gas, I shift sooner. If I have to accelerate, I shift later. I have the control I need. You can slow down gradually by downshifting if you need to, and you don't have to sit there hoping the transmission shifts at the right time. In addition, when a major problem occurs, it's usually nothing more serious than a worn clutch, which is FAR cheaper then replacing or rebuilding an automatic. The advantages of a stick far outweigh the pain of driving them in traffic.

SolarSteve
SolarSteve

Manual transmission cars are unlikely to be stolen because so few carjackers know how to drive a stick shift.

Steven Karty
Steven Karty

The death of the manual transmission (stickshift) has been predicted in magazine articles ever since the 1950s.  Ford sponsored a special edition of Readers Digest in the late 1950s that highlighted their cars and featured an article about stickshifts becoming extinct.  But in 1964 Ford brought out the Mustang with its manual transmission's shifter on the floor, helping resurrect the stickshift.  The muscle cars of the later 1960s also helped revitalize the stickshift.  So the number of stickshifts varies greatly from year to year, just like the number of convertible cars also varies.  But neither is ever going away completely.     

Maury_Maury
Maury_Maury

I prefer manual transmission because it gives me more control of the car, not because I think it's a gimmick that makes me look cool.

I don't understand why something like driving manual is so different for all these junk-munching Americans with over-sized, giant SUV boxes that are usually only carrying 1 person. Stick shift is the standard in Europe.

pbug56
pbug56

As owners of Honda's with V6's and auto trannies (like my 2002 Ody) have come to discover, as car companies put more and more gears into an automatic, and squeeze every last mpg they can out of the trannies, SOME of the trannies become far less reliable.  There are now web sites devoted just to Honda's 199 through about 2008 self destructing trannies that for the most part Honda kind of ignores.  Our 2002 Honda Odyssey EXL Navi had an extended warranty - 7 years, 100k miles.  We bought it because CR said it was the most reliable.  At 8 1/2 years and 90k miles in May 2010, the trannie ground itself to little bits and died - the day I lost my last job.  Honda 'gave us a break' and only charged about $3500 for a rebuilt with a 3 year 36k mile warranty.  Later we learned that their rebuilts are only designed and built to last the life of that warranty.  BTW, when we complained to BBB, a few days later we got a call from American Honda telling us where we could stuff our complaint.

Manuals don't self destruct like this.  Sure, they can wear out their clutch, and they can break.  But not so expensive and not so badly.  But they are a pain, and few know how to use them anymore.

A few firms have started using CVT's - continuously variable transmissions.  Essentially 2 pullies with a 'belt' connecting them, one pulley gets bigger while the other gets smaller as controlled by a computer.  A lot fewer parts, hopefully a lot less to go wrong, and as firms get experience with them they are getting to be far more efficient and responsive.  But as long as Honda and others can make massive profits over replacing their own badly designed auto trannies, they won't happily switch to newer, better designs.

GrandpaTarkin
GrandpaTarkin

Well, on the up-side automatic is doomed too: in ten year's time all new cars will be self-driving.

bret williams
bret williams

My Dodge Challenger would not be the same as an automatic.   In fact, the first thing I look for when I'm looking through the window of a sports car is to see if it is a stick.   If it isn't, I move on right away...buy a Lexus if you don't want sporty...

brickie816
brickie816

re: Quadg   If you rember in the old days , we had a crusie control then, only we calledit a throttle, pull it out to set where you want it.  I miss your coyote hunts on a sunday afternoon, at 13 and 14 it was my job to drive motel t with hunters in the back bed, and once in while one on front fender,stradel the headlight, what a blast we had.

Xandersun
Xandersun

Well, I for one, will take the horse and buggy over a manual car any day! So much more enjoyable interacting with a real animal!

The rest of the world also uses the metric system and have no problem with universal health care. I'm glad that manual transmission drivers still have cars to drive in this country, but thank the dear Lord that we have enough sense here to embrace technological improvement and automatic cars.

FedSec
FedSec

NOOOOOOOOOOO!! I love my manual transmission! I'm 50 now, I want to still be driving my stick when I'm 80!

tylerjake78
tylerjake78

This is another example of how our population is becoming more incompetent. When you don't have the skills to drive a manual, you don't have the ability to do many other things that require common sense.

Fred2202350
Fred2202350

As, 1) the owner of 5 manual and 1 automatic car and, 2) a summer resident of Italy, the article is accurate. Manual shift is found in 90%+ of cars in Italy, but in 2011 the number fell to below 90% for the first time, due to the "dual-clutch" automatics which are an automated stick shift (no clutch pedal). But many cars aren't even available with an automatic, even ones also sold in the US, almost always with an automatic. I just bought a new car with a 6 speed manual, and got a good deal on it because the dealer turned out not to have a buyer for it. Manuals save money right from the start (if you drive it correctly) and last the life of the car, but if you get stuck in a 5 mile back-up on the Interstate, they ain't a lot of fun!

DucatiRider
DucatiRider

One of the reasons why manuals *can* get lower MPG in some vehicles is that their manual transmissions are aimed at the 'sporty' crowd, and thus have less efficient gear ratios for the sake of speed.

I prefer a manual because it is more fun, much more fun. I like being in control of my vehicle as much as possible. (Granted I own 4 manual motorcycles and one automatic car, so I guess I'm not really part of the statistics.)

Javier Trejo
Javier Trejo

I really will not change the feeling of driving a standard over an automatic. I had been

driving both but I really like the filing of a standard. Nobody is going to

take that pleasure from me.

Kenny Duthie
Kenny Duthie

People saying that automatic transmission drivers are lazy must think about themselves. Before there were cars, we rode horses or carriages.  Wouldn't those people tell stick shift drivers that they are lazy?

Ronnie Tilghman
Ronnie Tilghman

I LOVE manual transmissions.  I taught myself to drive one under fire so to speak.  I had it down pat by the time I got home and haven't looked back since.   It always amazes me when a younger guy sees me, an over 40 woman, in my 300zx (I love old Z's best) and inquires if  it's a 5 speed.  When I say yes the look of shock, awe and admiration on their face is almost worth the price of admission.  I have to agree with the sentiment that people are just plain old lazy nowadays.  Driving a manual takes a little more effort but it's worth it to me.

John Luma
John Luma

Sports car builders should preserve the stick shift as an option because it's A LOT MORE FUN TO DRIVE than an automatic or paddle shift. You buy sports cars to stay engaged with the machine you prize. As said in another context -- to feel "the journey is the destination."

Jennifer E. Cole
Jennifer E. Cole

Driving a manual transmission has so many benefits.  One, you drive the car; you 're not waiting for the transmission to shift for you (usually way too late).  You can handle any amount of snow in the northeast by downshifting with a FWD vehicle instead of tapping on the brakes (which last well past the "recommended" lifespan).  And they are SO much more fun to drive (zoom, zoom)!!

I just purchased my third manual, this time a Subaru Legacy GT.  I've owned two Honda Accords previously.  In addition to having far fewer options to choose from, I learned that US manufacturers are exporting most of their manual transmission and Japanese/European manufacturers are not importing theirs.  I only had several options to choose from unless I wanted a base model.  

Driving a manuel transmission is becoming a lost artform.  It's fun, engaging and smart.  My hope is the Car and Driver campaign, as well as this article, will build awareness that we still have options and should demand them when visiting a dealership.

My parents made sure my sister and I knew how to drive a manual transmission when we were learning how to drive, which has become an invaluable skill.  Plus it always impresses the boys ;-)

MaryMitch
MaryMitch

If you don't know how to drive a manual, good luck renting a car in Europe.

iansamry
iansamry

Manual transmissions are an anachronism, there is no real argument to made for them today with modern computerized automatic transmissions. Even drag racing cars are automatics, because the computer can react faster than the driver.

Obzervur
Obzervur

I drove stick shifts most of my life until I went to work in St. Louis and lived in Illinois.

However, driving in to downtown St. Louis on the Poplar Street Bridge, began to take a toll on my right knee when it was crowded (most of the time), coming to work and leaving for home.

Drive 10 feet, slow down, stop, accelerate  up to 45, slow down, stop, accelerate to 30, etc.

As you rack up the years and get older, your right knee begins to go.

It will catch up with some of you younger drivers eventually.

brickie816
brickie816

I started driving at 14 on the farm, our tractor, car, and truck, model t were all stick shift, even in 1953, people today would have fit having to pull out the choke, set the spark to start a model t, but they were a ball to drive, and went everwhere we wanted to go.

LoveAManual
LoveAManual

I love my manual transmission and have been driving them on and off since high school. It seems more like "driving" with a stick shift rather than just "operating" with an automatic transmission.  I have also seen articles where car jackers are unable to steal manual transmission vehicles because they cannot drive'em!  So there!  Ha, ha...

JackalS4
JackalS4

I always hear about guys who "wanted" to get a manual transmission on

their new car but they weren't sure if their GF/wife would be "okay"

with it or be willing to learn it etc.  To me, in most cases, that's

called "settling".  In certain cases of course it is understandable, but just saying.  VERY fortunately for me, my lovely girlfriend is from Brazil and she ONLY knows how to drive manual.  :)  I don't think she has any idea what PRND321 means!  :-p

JackalS4
JackalS4

I always hear about guys who "wanted" to get a manual transmission on their new car but they weren't sure if their GF/wife would be "okay" with it or be willing to learn it etc.  To me, in most cases, that's called "settling".  In certain cases of course it is understandable, but just saying.  VERY fortunately for me, my lovely girlfriend is from Brazil and she ONLY knows how to drive manual.  :)  I don't think she has any idea what PRND321 means!  :-p

Gary McCray
Gary McCray

There was a time when manual cars got better fuel mileage than automatics.

No longer and the most fuel efficient cars get better fuel mileage with their auto models than those with manual transmissions.

Even the highest performance sports cars have shifted (pun) to paddle shift automatics or at least hybrid auto/manual shift for their top end versions.

Manual transmissions will be around for a while because they are simpler, easier to repair and cheaper and there is still a core of enthusiasts who want them, but their days are numbered.

LRM2
LRM2

When I went to buy a new car this year, I couldn't get all the bells and whistles I wanted in a car with a manual trans.  I had to settle for an automatic, but I went with a 6 cylinder for the power on the highways.  It's annoying.  I still have my manual with 214000 miles on it, which I drive whenever I can.

LRM2
LRM2

When I went to buy a new car this year, I couldn't get a car with all the bells and whistles I wanted with a manual trans.  I was really disappointed.  My car with the manual has 214000 miles on it and is still going.

LRM2
LRM2

I love driving stick shift, but I couldn't get a car with all the bells and whistles I wanted with a manuel trans.  I had to buy an automatic, but I still have my manual with 214,000 miles on it which I drive whenever I can.  I really miss the manual trans when I'm in my new car. 

OldManPar
OldManPar

I prefer manual transmissions because it leaves me in better control of the car.  

Adam Barber
Adam Barber

I can't drive a car with an automatic transmission.

Fatesrider
Fatesrider

It used to be that automatic transmissions were more expensive and manual cars got much better mileage.  With gas mileage standards going up and corporate greed, cars with manual transmissions are now just as expensive as cars with automatic transmissions and there isn't a lot of difference in gas mileage.  So customers are wondering why knock yourself out (unless you like that kind of thing) messing with a manual transmission when you can have an automatic shift for you for the same price and basically the same mileage?

It's not a matter of preference.  It's a matter of laziness...

Kristen Kauffman
Kristen Kauffman

While car shopping recently, I noticed that the automatic transmission was listed as a $1,000 option. I wanted a manual, but the sales guy said none were available. So I said how can you charge extra for it as an option. He looked pretty sheepish. I bought my car somewhere else. Yes, a manual.

Veronica Wolfe
Veronica Wolfe

the reason they are going extinct so to speak is because they are damned hard to find 

It took me ages to find a dealer who had a manual on the lot in the model i wanted and even then I had 2 color choices white or black. 

Manufacturers do not make them and dealers do not order them I think most people just give up and get an automatic

pbug56
pbug56

 One of my dad's 1920's Packards had a little foot step next to the gas pedal where you could adjust how your foot rested (3 levels) depending on how much gas you wanted.  You didn't use the hand throttle while underway since it didn't go up that far AND because it was kind of dangerous to drive that way.  You used it mainly at startup, and when stopped on a hill going up.

pbug56
pbug56

 If you are driving the sort of Italian cars I think of, it really would be silly to have automatic's in them!  Take the stick out of a car like that and you might as well not build the car.

Of course, my compact SUV or my wife's minivan- the auto is the only way to go, especially in stop and go traffic.  But for real road fun...

BTW, I have a 1920's Packard - 3 speed H!

CarolineB920
CarolineB920

@Jennifer E. ColeThanks for the encouraging post for women who can drive stick shift! I am 33 and am currently DYING to get a manual transmission car. I couldn't find anyone who had a stick shift car so I took 2 lessons so far with a driving school. It was a Toyota pick up truck and the instructor said I got the basic concept down pretty well. I got it up into 4th gear. My goal is to get my next car (Volkswagen Jetta) with a manual transmission.

One thing I notice (and I guess I wasn't expecting it quite frankly) is the amount of "hate" from some men who seem very angry at the thought of women driving stick shifts. It's as if we entered their "domain" or something and I find it very annoying. There are so many degrading and sexist articles and videos on the internet poking fun at women trying to learn stick shift. Someone also asked why aren't there more women who can drive stick. My only answer would be that perhaps they feel too intimidated because of the negativity. But if anything, it's only served to make me more determined.

And the other thing is that most of the world drives manual transmission cars, men AND women, so the hate seems really unfair. I can only assume most of these attitudes come from American men? I read some articles that the first automatic transmission cars WERE marketed towards women with subtle or not so subtle sexist overtones that shifting was too HARD for them. So because of some silly 1950's advertising women are dealing with the after effects 60 + years later?

Anyway, I just wanted to finish by saying congrats to you for being a woman who likes to drive stick shift. I hope to join the ranks very soon. :)

jeanocelot
jeanocelot

I actually first drove a manual renting a car in Europe, as there were no automatics available.  I was visiting a friend (also from the USA) and he gave me a few pointers, so there I went, barreling through the city streets of Amsterdam as a gremmie sticker.  By the end of the day (mostly on the autobahn), it felt natural for me, and I liked it so much, when I got back to the USA, I sold my old auto tranny car and bought a VW manual.

Quadg
Quadg

you can push start a manual if the battery is dead... no need to wait for breakdown services or use a charger...

got me to work on time several times, after leaving the lights on...

those computer brains are useless when the battery is dead..

Quadg
Quadg

gas prices are more likely to reduce heavy traffic faster than my knees give out..

Quadg
Quadg

i miss a manual choke, on cold mornings... these computers get confused sometimes.

Gary McCray
Gary McCray

My own personal cars: 

4 wheel drive Dodge 3500 diesel truck with a six speed.

BMW 3 series all wheel drive wagon with a 5 speed.

No stinking automatics here.

jeanocelot
jeanocelot

After a few years of driving a manual, I tried driving my parents' new auto tranny.  Of course, I would accelerate, and then instinctively put my foot on the clutch (which on an auto tranny is the brake!)  It's like I had to always think to properly drive an auto.

Chiku Misra
Chiku Misra

so true, i bought a new car last year and the stick used more gas than the automatic.  there was no way i was going to do all that shifting not only for nothing, i.e. not saving any gas, but actually using more gas.  hell no.