According to The New York Times, only about 1 percent of new cars sold in the United States in 2021 were equipped with three pedals and a manual transmission. Entire generations of American motorists have managed without learning to operate a manual transmission. Concurrently with the decline in sales of these manual transmissions, the market became saturated with SUVs, crossovers, and luxury pickup vehicles. All of this stands in stark contrast to the purchasing patterns in Europe and Asia, where small manual hatchbacks essentially rule the roads – approximately 80 percent of vehicles on the roads in those regions are manual. Even on these continents, however, trends are shifting.
Why is this so? First, a glance at the United States. It seems innately American to make everything as large and comfortable as possible, including automobiles. The overwhelming majority of prewar automobiles across the globe had manually operated transmissions. After World War II, automatic transmissions became a premium option for many American cars in the 1950s. Customers were likely to choose this option because they didn’t want to deal with relocating during their commute and they could easily afford the added expense. By 1957, auto crates had captured more than 80% of the U.S. market.
During the same period, American cars grew significantly larger than their European and Japanese counterparts, a trend that continued until the oil crisis of the 1970s. They stayed with small manual cars east of the Atlantic because they were more fuel-efficient and cheaper to produce. In the continents whose lands and factories were ravaged by war, inexpensive automobiles were a necessity. Meanwhile, the United States was oil-rich and insulated from the conflict’s economic repercussions, so frugality was of no concern. Europeans are more likely to take shorter road journeys and rely more on public transportation than are Americans, both historically and currently. This is another major reason why Americans adopted automatic firearms so rapidly.
The market for dedicated sports cars was one segment where manual transmissions maintained a foothold. Many of these automobiles from Porsche, Ferrari, and Datsun were imported. Typically, they had no automatic option. If they did, the vehicle had substandard performance and handling. These automobiles cemented in the minds of Americans the notion that shifting gears manually was a rite of passage for true car enthusiasts, despite the fact that every idle child in the Eastern Hemisphere learned to do so for their driver’s license.
Why Sports Cars Gave Up Manual Transmissions
However, even sports vehicles no longer offer three-pedal options in the modern era. Modern automatic transmissions, whether torque converter or dual-clutch, can now match or exceed the performance of manual transmissions. Worldwide, Ferrari and Lamborghini do not offer manual transmissions, and the Corvette recently eliminated its manual transmission option. A few years ago, Toyota released their much-anticipated sports car revival, the Supra, without a manual transmission.
Ford offered manual-only performance packages for the Focus RS, Fiesta ST, and Mustang GT350 until recently. All have been discontinued within the past few years. As continuously variable transmissions (CVTs) and dual-clutch transmissions (DCTs) now rival the efficacy of a stick shift, cheap compacts around the world are now available with automatic transmissions.
“Our automatic transmissions, specifically our 8HP planetary and dual-clutch transmissions, have become so efficient and quick-shifting that they have supplanted our own manual transmissions, as well as those found in sports car applications. Currently, automatic transmissions are preferable to manual transmissions in terms of performance “Tony Sapienza, director of communications for ZF’s North American operations, explains. “Although enthusiasts in the U.S. sometimes claim to favor the ‘engagement’ of manual transmissions, sales indicate that this is a very small and diminishing group.”
There are indications that automatic vehicles are dominating even in Europe. In 2017, Ford Motor Company reported that only 10% of the automobiles it sold in Europe were equipped with automatic transmissions. In 2020, it reached 31%. The company attributes its development to new features that are incompatible with manual transmissions, such as cruise control and parking assist. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders reported that automatic vehicles outsold manuals for the first time in the United Kingdom in 2020, as reported by USA Today. Dual-clutch transmissions and continuously variable transmissions, which use computerized systems to change gears, have made automatics more fuel-efficient to operate.
Where to Satisfy Your Manual Jonesing
Few manufacturers, including Porsche and Honda, still offer new manual transmission vehicles. “All Honda models are renowned for their driving enjoyment. For certain drivers, a manual transmission is essential. I’m pleased to affirm that not only have the most recent Si and Type R models offered a manual transmission, but that the upcoming 2022 Civic Hatchback will also be available with a manual transmission “according to Honda & Acura Public Relations’ Chris Naughton (Eastern U.S.). He adds that he is unable to comment on the specifications of any upcoming Type R models, but all previous iterations of this car have only featured a manual transmission.
Porsche also appears to be doing well with manual transmissions. When given the option, more than twenty percent of our sports car buyers (718 and 911 models) in the United States elect for the manual transmission, according to Frank Wiesmann, manager of product communications for Porsche Cars North America, Inc. “In the United States, however, it has increased to nearly 70 percent for the previous generation 911 GT3 (model years 2018-2019) and is presently around 50 percent for our 718 Cayman GT4/718 Spyder models. We intend to offer manual transmissions to our clients so long as regulations permit and there is sufficient demand.”
As the availability of manual transmissions decreases, a subset of enthusiasts who are obsessed with anything with an H-pattern have caused the prices of used manuals to increase substantially. In the case of Ferraris from the 2000s, the last manual transmission models can fetch nearly double the price of a comparable vehicle with an automatic transmission. In an effort to introduce new stock and capitalize on the trend, some custom shops have begun retrofitting cars with manual transmissions. Just as the supply of three-pedal cars is dwindling, the demand for them is soaring, rapidly transforming them into a speculative asset with a skyrocketing price.