According to The New York Times, just about 1 percent of new cars sold in the United States in 2021 were equipped with three pedals and a manual transmission. Whole generations of American motorists have managed without learning to drive a manual transmission. Along with the decline in sales of these manual gearboxes, the market became saturated with SUVs, crossovers, and luxury pickup trucks. All of this stands in stark contrast to the purchasing trends in Europe and Asia, where compact manual hatchbacks essentially rule the roads — approximately 80 percent of vehicles on the roads in those regions are manual. Even in these continents, though, tendencies are shifting.
Why is this so? First, a look at the United States. It seems innately American to make everything as large and comfortable as possible, including automobiles. The great majority of prewar automobiles across the globe had manually controlled transmissions. After World War II, automatic gearboxes were a premium option for many American cars in the 1950s. Consumers were likely to choose this option since they didn’t want to bother with shifting during their travel and they could easily afford the added expense. By 1957, vehicle boxes had captured more than 80% of the U.S. market.
Around the same period, American automobiles grew significantly larger than their European and Japanese equivalents, a trend that continued until the oil crisis of the 1970s. They persisted with little manual automobiles east of the Atlantic because they were more fuel-efficient and cheaper to construct. In the continents whose fields and industry were decimated by war, inexpensive automobiles were a need. However, the United States was oil-rich and insulated from the conflict’s economic fallout, so frugality was of no concern. Europeans are more prone to take shorter road journeys and rely more on public transportation than do Americans, both historically and currently. There is another major reason why Americans adopted automatic firearms so rapidly.
The market for dedicated sports cars was one niche where manual transmissions maintained a presence. Many of these automobiles from Porsche, Ferrari, and Datsun were imported. Often, they had no automatic option. If they did, the vehicle had terrible performance and handling. These automobiles entrenched in the minds of Americans the concept that shifting gears manually was a rite of passage for true car fans, despite the fact that every bored child in the Eastern Hemisphere trained to do it for their driver’s license.
Why Sports Cars Gave Up Manual Transmissions
However, even sports automobiles no longer provide three-pedal options in the present era. Contemporary automatic transmissions, whether torque converter or dual-clutch, can now match or exceed the performance of manual transmissions. Globally, Ferrari and Lamborghini do not offer manual gearboxes, and the Corvette just eliminated its manual transmission option. A few years back, Toyota released their much-anticipated sports car reincarnation, the Supra, without a manual transmission.
Ford offered manual-only performance upgrades for the Focus RS, Fiesta ST, and Mustang GT350 until recently. All have been canceled within the past few years. Although continuously variable transmissions (CVTs) and dual-clutch transmissions (DCTs) increasingly rival the efficiency of a stick shift, affordable compacts around the world are now available with automatic gearboxes.
“Our automatic gearboxes, notably our 8HP planetary and dual-clutch transmissions, have grown 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 superior to manual transmissions in terms of performance “Tony Sapienza, director of communications for ZF’s North American operations, explains. “While fans in the U.S. sometimes claim to prefer the ‘engagement’ of manual transmissions, sales indicate that this is a relatively tiny and diminishing demographic.”
There are indications that automatic automobiles 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 rise to new features that are incompatible with manual transmissions, including as cruise control and parking assist. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders claimed that automatic automobiles 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 electronic devices to change gears, have made automatics more fuel-efficient to operate.
Where to Satisfy Your Manual Jonesing
Few automakers, like Porsche and Honda, still offer new manual transmission vehicles. “All Honda cars are renowned for their driving enjoyment. For certain drivers, a manual transmission is essential. I’m pleased to report that not only have the most current Si and Type R models offered a manual transmission, but that the future 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 prospective Type R models, but all previous incarnations of this automobile have exclusively included a manual transmission.
Porsche also appears to be doing well with manual transmissions. When offered the option, more than twenty percent of our sports car purchasers (718 and 911 models) in the United States opt for the manual transmission, according to Frank Wiesmann, manager of product relations for Porsche Cars North America, Inc. “In the United States, however, it has increased to about 70 percent for the prior generation 911 GT3 (model years 2018-2019) and is currently at 50 percent for our 718 Cayman GT4/718 Spyder vehicles. We intend to offer manual transmissions to our customers 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 led the prices of used manuals to increase dramatically. In the case of Ferraris from the 2000s, the last manual transmission models might fetch roughly double the price of a comparable vehicle with an automatic transmission. In an effort to introduce fresh stock and capitalize on the trend, some custom shops have begun retrofitting cars with manual transmissions. Just as the supply of three-pedal automobiles is reducing, the demand for them is soaring, rapidly transforming them into a speculative asset with a skyrocketing price.