The Stick Is Back: Shoppers Shift To Manual Transmissions

May 3, 2012

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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