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The Stick Is Back: Shoppers Shift To Manual Transmissions

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According to the Detroit Free Press, out of 2,360 auto models on sale in America, just 19% offer a manual transmission option. That's down from 29% in 2007.

Worse, a couple of weeks ago, we told you that just 4% of cars in showrooms come equipped with stick shifts. For driving fans, that was sad news.

Thankfully, that's not the whole story. Because even though stick shifts are found on fewer vehicles nowadays, and even though fewer are manuals are held in dealers' inventories, more people are buying them.

In fact, over the first three months of 2012, 6.5% of new cars were sold with manual transmissions. That's a far higher figure than we've seen in recent years, and it's closing in on the 7.2% glimpsed in 2006. 

One big reason for the growing interest in manual transmissions is cost. Though we seem to be out of the woods of the Great Recession, Americans remain a bit shell-shocked -- particularly when it comes to big-ticket items like cars. Opting for a manual transmission can bring a new car's price down by $1,000 or more.

Another reason may be the increased availability of dual-clutch transmissions. As customers become accustomed to "fun-shifting" vehicles like the popular Ford Fiesta, they may be encouraged to step up and try the real thing.

Then again, this could simply be part of a larger trend stemming from the Great Recession -- a trend that's all about going back to basics. Though high-end consumers are returning to their luxury habits, much of the buying public is living closer to the bone nowadays. From Etsy to a raft of cable channels devoted to home improvement, we've seen the DIY aesthetic slide from the fringes to the mainstream. We have a hunch that America's return to stick shifts is part and parcel of that movement.

Or maybe -- just maybe -- people have finally figured out how much fun manuals are to drive. If you've ever owned one, you already know that; if you haven't, you're in for a pleasant surprise, because today's manuals are even simpler to handle than the ones of just 10 years ago.

Are you all about the stick? Or would you rather let the computer handle the shifting duties? And what does this mean for all those autonomous cars headed our way? Drop us a line, or leave us a note in the comments below.

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Comments (22)
  1. have always owned stick cars all my life and yes they are getting better all the time, best is performance and mileage is alwasy better and sometimes handling is even improved.

  2. It's too bad carmakers switched from the hand crank to the electric starter. Cars haven't been as much fun since they did that stupid move, too.

  3. Crank vs electric starter changes the starting experience, not the driving experience after started.

  4. Why would anyone want to drive a stick shift? It takes longer to stop, which can be dangerous.

  5. Where did this information come from?

  6. I'm with Bruce - where DID this come from? If you're just talking about down-shifting, you're pretty clueless... maybe too clueless to be granted any driving privileges, auto- or not.

  7. What??? I have not laugh so hard for a long time

  8. There are more comments in this thread
  9. Driving a stick is soooooo much're driving the car verses the car driving you!!!

  10. I don't know about taking longer to stop. But I fully agree that they are more fun to drive. Going through the gears in an automatic is about the same as comparing the experience of driving to playing a video game. I'm curious about double clutch transmissions. They are supposed to be lighter and cheaper, and maybe more fun to drive.

    My next car, a beater to teach my kids to drive, is going to have manual transmissions. Won't worry about my kids' friends borrowing it--they won't know how to work the 3rd pedal.

  11. In great cities jammed traffic the Automatic Trasmission is the must in confort.
    With stick transmssion cars you often stress your left leg due to clutch pedal several actuations.
    In another hand, stick transmission cars has better control, fast response and performance on agressive driving.
    It is mandatory for small / medium cars.
    You must choose the car as per your profile.

  12. I enjoy the control one has over a car with a stick. I am waiting for Honda CRV to offer a 5 or 6 speed before I give up my 2002 CRV 5 speed. I love my 1996 Dodge 1 ton dually super cab with the diesel and 5 speed.

  13. Right! ... and by the way, let's also get rid of power steering, air condition, electric window lifters, ABS, ESC, and all the electronics in general. Back to the basics, right?

  14. As this is clearly sarcastic...i'll ask you why wouldn't you want to get rid of power steering, ABS and ESC? Chances are you'd reply "are you dumb, it gives you more control." In that case, why would you get rid of the manual? It also gives you more control. I'm not saying everyone should rush out to get a manual just because it gives you some more control...alot of people are bad drivers anyway, i'm just pointing this out because people should at least consider the advantages and disadvantages of their transmission choices so they can make an informed decision. In many cases, a manual will also give you an extra gear (budget cars) and a lower cost to buy, maintain, and run.

  15. (Ran out of room) the biggest advantage is that you can shift according to conditions to be safer. The auto doesn't know when it's snowy outside, etc. and also for passing you can just downshift before you pass, instead of having to push the gas, and wait for the auto to downshift. Many autos also try to stay in too high a gear than needed, which will give you better economy, but also make the car slightly less responsive. Autos aren't all bad (and some are worse than others) but they are nice for city driving or commutes with lots of traffic. They also allow you to drink or eat something easier (though also to txt easier and get yourself killed). Autos are best in a luxury car made for riding around, and not in performance cars.

  16. I think the move to manual trans may also be a response to the numb CVT automatics.. There is no sense of shifting which I like to feel. My current Maxima is an automatic but my next car will defintely be manual.

  17. I love a manual and the idea that a "sports car" does not at least have an optional manual is ridiculous. I don't hate autos, but I prefer banging my own gears. I usually drive trucks and sporty cars, though. If I was driving a luxury sedan like a gentleman I would like the car to take care of the shifting. I don't drive those, though, so rev it, dump it and hold on!

  18. Took a driving lesson last weekend to learn stick. Was loads of fun, i crave more.

    Would have loved to learn manual when i first started driving 4 years ago. Parents wouldn't have it. My mom never learned, and my dad had concerns about having to replace the clutch (not that big of an issue IMO).

    So im stuck with an automatic until i move out. Or until my younger brother gets his licence and i give him my pick-up truck (for cheaper insurance).

  19. Why would you want a stick and the trouble? Automatics are just as good, if not better these days. People who whine for a stick in a sports car are stuck in the 60's. No auto, no sale!

  20. A manual is a direct connection to your engine, and it gives you total control of it. If you don't like stick, fine, but please inform yourself before expressing your opinions.

  21. I wrote a nasty letter to porsche for putting a pdk only on the new gt3. Car makers have lost their way. It's like a violin or a guitar. THey went through a period of development, but then at some point, they pretty much became what they needed to be. Sure you can get a lame casio keyboard that makes you get a synthesized sound. It doesn't take any skill to really master. It's just done for you. Tech is good to point but at some point. It's enough. They should be making simple cars for real motorsports ppl with great mechanical feel and balance and get rid of all this complexity. Where does it end? Automatic steering? Idiot proof braking? What's the point.

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