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Only 1 In 25 New Cars Has A Manual Gearbox Now: Why?

2012 Volkswagen Golf R

2012 Volkswagen Golf R

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Go to any given dealership with 100 new cars. 

On average, just four of the 2012 models will have manual gearboxes.

The trend of the vanishing third pedal is nothing new, notes The Detroit News

Even a decade ago, just 8.5 percent of 2002 models were manuals. The paper’s own automotive reporter even confesses she never learned to drive a stick shift until it essentially became a job requirement.

It’s more than a little contradictory to automotive reviews (including many you’ll read here) extolling the pleasure of enthusiastic driving with a true manual gearbox. Likewise, purists gravitate to manuals for tackling their favorite twisting road or occasional track day. It’s the original form of in-car connectivity.

But everyday life for most isn’t about testing new cars on tracks or winding highways. It’s stop-and-go commuting and running errands; pretty mundane stuff by comparison. One serious traffic jam can numb the left legs of manual drivers and give cause to reconsider.

What was once derided as the slushbox has seen major improvements in efficiency,  performance and weight; all were former advantages of manuals. Yet a 2013 Ford Mustang with a V-6 and six-speed manual can’t match the fuel efficiency of the same car with a six-speed automatic.

Manufacturers like BMW, Ferrari, Mercedes and Porsche have implemented race technology into their road cars and actively promote their automatics as the performance advantage.

Then there’s the overachieving Nissan GT-R. It doesn’t even offer a manual gearbox, period.

But don’t believe the clutch pedal is going the way of the headlight dimmer that used to reside on the floor alongside it.  At least not yet.

Cars like the 2012 Ford Focus beat take-rate expectations for the manual gearbox, now forecast to close in on 10 percent of sales. The Fiat 500 Abarth and Volkswagen Golf R versions destined for the US get manual transmissions only. It echoes Ford spokesman Chris Terry’s thoughts that some drivers don’t consider their cars appliances and want to actively remain in control “to the absolute greatest degree possible.”

Those of us who fall into that camp seem to be dwindling based on sales figures, but sore left legs are becoming less common also.
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Comments (24)
  1. I agree for commuter traffic, the manual box is not fun. However, I was raised that if you have a beanbag and are a real man, you should be able to shift a manual box car or truck. And, it is more fun and you are more connected to the car when you are driving something other than an appliance!

  2. Yes I know. I drove a Toyota pickup with a 5 speed on I-93 in Boston during rush hour for a fair number of months. My left leg got noticably bigger than my right from pumping that damned clutch. But you get used to it, I got to the point where I could drive, shift and eat at the same time using carefully coordinated movements. :)

  3. That's because you're old, with old standards of manliness. Today's man may not know how to drive an ancient and ridiculous technology like a manual trans, but he's right at home setting up a website, networking a home entertainment system, or teaching old guys like you how to grab the future by the beanbags.

  4. I disagree. My company does all the things you describe yet the only automatic in the family belongs to 64 Cadillac (if it did exist it would be inappropriate). My kids who are both getting to the age where they need to start learning to drive will not only learn to drive a manual but also how to heal and toe and double clutch as well (and they won't late apex either). Driving a manual has nothing to do with "ancient and ridiculous technology" any more than understanding the file structure of your computer. One doesn't need to understand the basic structure of their box but I can guarantee that the ones that do are substantially better users. With a manual you are driving a car, without it it one more step to being driven.

  5. I have always owned a car/truck with a manual for preference and control. I will continue to own my 2002 Honda CRV until Honda brings back the manual transmission. I also have a 5 speed in my 1996 Dodge one ton dually.

  6. Manual transmissions are offered in:
    The Subaru Impreza, Forester, Outback, Legacy. In fact the WRX and The WRX Sti are ONLY available with a stick shift.
    Also the new Audi TTRs is ONLY shipped to the US with a 6-speed manual. Fred Vang (Santa Fe, NM USA)

  7. Driving a manual is work. And I don't want driving my car to be a job. I can drive a manual, but choose not to.

  8. I currently drive a stick -- but my next car will have a paddle shift automatic -- depending on how well it's executed. All the benefits of a stick -- with the convenience of an automatic.

  9. Manuals are loosing ground to automatics because of TEXTING :-)

    PS I like manual transmissions better than automatics because I like to drive rather than be drive. (MM)

  10. Manual is less expensive than auto by $1000-2000, and is still more fuel efficient in most makes and models. Besides, it's still called "standard" transmission in most of the world. My dad wanted an auto transmission (in the Netherlands) and had to wait 2 months.

  11. I find it sad to think about a teenager asking someone what the 3rd pedal in a vehicle is for. I believe every male should know how to drive a stick shift and having more control over the vehicle is a must. I knew how to operate and drive a standard vehicle even before I had my permit to even start driving and it is something that I really enjoy and being a Car guy I find automatics lame and worthless and the worst invention in the car world.

  12. Every MALE should be able to drive a stick??! Misogyny is apparently alive and well. My eighteen year old daughter can drive not only a stick, but a stick with manual steering. She blows away all the gear head guys.

  13. Apparently oversensitive people who don't know the definition of the word "misogyny" are alive and well as well. Brandon never said women shouldn't be able to drive a stick, and more power to your daughter for her awesome abilities. What he said was that males SHOULD. There will always be activities that have a masculine or feminine bias, and there's nothing wrong with that. That fact doesn't preclude the non-biased gender from participating.

    Nobody said men are better than women or anything of the like, so perhaps you should reserve your knee-jerk accusations for someone who is actually being derisive.

  14. the heck with "connected" to my car. I drive manuals for 3 reasons



    There is no way possible a 6 speed auto mustang can beat a 6 speed manual mustang unless the manual is intentionally hobbled (lower gearing) or driven by someone clueless about how to drive efficiently. Period.

    First the manual is lighter. Second I can force the manual into the highest gear at ANY SPEED

    Third in a manual I can turn the engine OFF any time I please

    this is simply not the case for auto's

    I drive a geo metro. one of the reasons I can get 60m regularly and consistently is that I am in 5th gear by 30mph almost every time.

    you find me an auto that will go into fifth (or sixth) at 30mph.

  15. As long as there is a cost savings associated with a manual transmission, I (and others) will chose that option.

  16. I'm only 19 and I have already decided that for the rest of my life I will forever drive manual. After my first stick shift, a 95 Camaro z28 M6, I found that there was no other feeling like it. My prior 89 Firebird A4 was so boring it immediately became a backup/cruiser-only car. My kids won't even know what an automatic transmission is until they have the opportunity to buy their own car. Some of the happiest times of my life have happened behind the wheel of a car, and I don't believe those times could have happened if it weren't for my shifter being an active part of those moments. I find it sad that these cars are disappearing, but I am also happy that the Golf R is staying true, because I have high hopes of that being my next car.

  17. I cannot imagine driving my Jeep Wrangler with an auto tranny. Try getting unstuck from the deep mud with an automatic.... good luck taking off in 3rd...

  18. Just picked up a 2012 camaro with 6speed Hurst stick.I have been an automatic transmission engineer in the auto industry for over 30years and still love the manual because of the control. Also could not give up 26 hp on camaro because the slush box can't handle the power of the 6.2

  19. The premier sports cars made in the USA STILL have manual trannys such as the Ford GT, Z06, ZR1, Viper, and exotics such as the Mosler and SSC Ultimate Aero. Pony cars such as the Shelby GT500, Chevy ZL1, and Boss 302 LS also have manuals.

    New tranny designs such as dual-clutch, paddle shift units allow for lightning fast shifts without having to clutch. Unfortunately those made to handle high HP and Torque are extremely expensive.

    There is a serious likelyhood that Chevy will offer a dual-clutch unit for the yet to be released C7 Corvette.

    That being said, a manual transmission puts the driver in more control than an automatic and for HPDE track events it is much more fun and challenging.

  20. I learned to drive in a 1951 Ford with a "three on the tree", a three speed manual with the gearshifter on the steering colunm, and an overdrive which was like a fourth gear that enabled the engine to run at a lower RPM, increasing gas milege and prevented the engine from slowing the car when you took your foot off the gas pedal, much like my wifes 2005 Cadillac Deville does and it is equipped with a slushbox. I would never have a pickup equipped with a slushbox. Mine has a five speed manual and I love it. Try getting unstuck in snow or mud with an automatic. It can be done, but it's way harder. I agree with one poster here that said slushboxes encourages texting! I don't eat fast food while driving because its like texting...

  21. Interesting story. I drove "stick-shifts" in the States from my very first car, a 1949 Chevy (3 on the tree) to a 1992 Toyota Corolla. It was difficult to get the Toyota with a 5 speed and I had to wait till one was located in Canada. In Europe ( I'm currently in Ireland) approx. 98% of cars have manual transmissions. Automatics are as rare as hen's teeth. I see 80 year old women driving 5 speed cars. The Europeans, especially the British and Irish look down upon automatics and those who cannot handle manuals.

  22. Some Volkswagen TDI models have a better final drive ratio on the manual transmission. Thus the automatic transmission have worse mileage for those cars. I prefer the manual transmission. It's possible to push start a manual transmission car when the electric starter has failed or the alternator/battery is failing. Parking on a hill and roll starting it kept me driving until I had the time to make repairs. An automatic transmission is disempowering and gives you fewer options.

  23. If I lost manual, I just would hate it.

  24. Save the manual transmissions for the race track, along with tachometers...both totally worthless to everyday drivers. These 2 items entice drivers to race or illegally operate they're vehicles.

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