Shifting Trends: Is the Manual Transmission Doomed?

Shifting Trends: Is the Manual Transmission Doomed?

Manual transmissions have always been idolized and are generally reserved for the ultimate sporty-cars, but how does a stick shift compare to its automated counterpart?

All the traditional advantages of a manual transmission are no longer applicable. With continuously variable transmissions (CVT), automatics can enjoy good fuel-economy, and dual-clutch transmissions give precise control and lightning quick shifts, usually associated with manual transmissions. Thanks to these more advanced transmissions, manual-equipped cars are hard to find, and are selling in increasingly small numbers.

Supercars dare you to call them ‘slushboxes’

It’s a sad fact that some of the sportiest automakers like Ferrari and McLaren no longer sell a car with a manual transmission. In fact, many high-powered supercars are available only with automatic transmissions, like the Lexus LFA, Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG and the Lamborghini Aventador. The high-tech Nissan GT-R, nick named “Godzilla” is one of the fastest cars around, and its dual-clutch transmission takes a lot of the credit. These supercars seem content with using automatics, while manual transmission are used to enhance the analogue feel of cars like the brutally powerful Shelby GT500. Other American cars with rich legacies like the Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 and SRT Viper are only available with manual transmissions, which enhance the muscle-car packed history that these cars come from.

While Buick is no longer making the muscle-cars it used to, it still caters to the enthusiast crowd with the Regal Turbo and Regal GS, which are both available with manual transmissions. Not only that, but Buick says that they sell more manual equipped versions of these cars than automatic versions. It’s quite amazing when you think about it: Buick now sells more stick-shift-equipped sports cars than Ferrari does.

Even econo-boxes are getting high-tech transmissions

Sports cars aren’t the only vehicles that are losing the fight with manual transmissions. With CVTs delivering such good fuel economy and smooth driving characteristics, manuals are quickly being replaced in almost every market segment.

Even high-tech dual-clutch automatics are being used in subcompacts like the Hyundai Veloster and Ford Fiesta, as well as the compact Dodge Dart. Manual transmissions used to be a popular option in cheaper cars, but with drivers looking for better fuel economy, automatics have become much more common.

“The Dart lends itself particularly well to sporty driving,” Eric Mayne, Dodge powertrain communications said. “Along with the fuel-economy benefits [DCTs] do a good job of spotlighting the sporty applications.”

In the end, cars like the Dart, Fiesta and Veloster get good fuel-economy, but these transmissions aren’t the same as the ones found in supercars, and lack some of the finesse and feel that’s expected from a DCT. In fact, the Veloster’s DCT is so tuned towards fuel economy that it’s not rated to handle the power of the Veloster Turbo’s engine, so instead Hyundai has opted for a conventional 6-speed automatic.

Manual Take Rate Percentages

Where manuals continue to exist, and flourish, is in the affordable sports car segment. The take rate of stick shifts in these cars also gives a clear indication of which ones really cater to true enthusiasts – though that’s not always the case.

The vehicle with the highest percentage of manual sales so far this year is the brand new Subaru BRZ. Seventy percent of BRZs sold are equipped with a manual transmission.

“The manuals are running very high,” Subaru product communications boss, Dominick Infante said.

That is a skewed number since the BRZ just came out, and most of the buyers are early adopters. “We think that over time that number will change a bit,” said Infante.

The mechanical twin of the BRZ is enjoying a lesser take-rate, likely due to the increased number of cars moved. To-date, 52-percent of Scion FR-S models are sold with a manual transmission. While the manual transmission is the most engaging option on the FR-S, the automatic certainly isn’t a boring slushbox. Also, both the automatic FR-S and the BRZ get better fuel-economy ratings than their manual transmission counterparts.

According to the numbers, these are just about the only vehicles that enjoy a manual transmission take-rate above 50 percent – with much of the reason likely due to early-adopter enthusiast-types.

The Ford Mustang, both the V6 and GT, have a 50-50 split right down the middle between automatics and manuals, as does the Volkswagen GTI, which is available with a quick-shifting dual-clutch automatic.

Other sports cars don’t enjoy such a high-percentage of manual transmission buyers. Buyers of the Hyundai Genesis Coupe seem to prefer the cars eight-speed automatic over the six-speed manual, as 75-percent opt for the automatic. While the reason could be the type of buyer, it may also have to do with the quality of the stick shift, which has been highly criticized.

With drivers looking to save money, many might see the benefits of a more fuel-friendly automatic. Hyundai’s fuel-saving eight-speed transmission is just one way that sports cars are conceding to better fuel economy.

High Tech Manuals?

One automaker that’s going the extra mile to preserve the manual transmission while also achieving high fuel economy numbers is Porsche, which has developed a seven-speed manual-transmission, available in the new 911.

“The decision to make a 7-speed was driven by the need for multiple ratios for acceleration performance while still having several ratios for overdrive function,” said Nick Twork from Porsche’s communications team. “We needed it to meet the requirements for the 911, two of which were improved performance and improved fuel economy.”

Instead of just relying on the German automaker’s impressive PDK dual-clutch automated gearbox, they also developed a manual transmission that boasts the best of the fuel-saving PDK, and the engagement that the enthusiast craves.

“We still have a fair percentage of customers who prefer a manual transmission,” Twork said. “In the 911, this is between 30-40 percent depending on where the car is in its lifecycle.”

Even with the innovative manual transmission, 911 buyers are opting for the faster automatic. Editor-in-Chief Colum Wood praised the automatic transmission saying it “ensures you’re in the perfect gear all the time.”

Nissan, even though it has an impressive dual-clutch transmission in its GT-R, also has a high-tech manual offering in its 370Z sports car. This manual transmission has a feature that automatically blips the throttle for the driver during downshifts. This means that the driver doesn’t have to do tricky foot-work when driving aggressively, or on the track. It also helps make the manual transmission more accessible to newbies, although it’s a shame that this technology is only available on a $3,030 Sport Package on the base Nissan 370Z (bringing its total price to around $37,000).

Other automakers are making smarter manuals too, like Chevrolet with its no-lift shift tech on its turbocharged or supercharged cars, so you can keep your foot on the gas while shifting so the turbo or supercharger can maintain its boost pressure.

Will the Stick Shift Survive?

Will the manual transmission go the way of the V8, saved only for performance vehicles that need and strive for driver engagement? Not exactly: even the sporty-ish Honda CR-Z hybrid is available with a manual transmission. Not only that, it seems to be a pretty hot seller, with it being the highest selling manual model in the Honda range, at about 40-percent (excluding the manual-only Civic Si). Though one has to wonder if that number would change if more cars like the CR-Z were around?

Thanks to increasingly efficient and fast-shifting automatics, the vast majority of driver’s will be satisfied by a modern automatic transmission. While manuals are slowly slipping away in the supercar and econobox segments, the stick-shift continues to live successfully in cars designed for enthusiasts.

  • justYncredible

    Manual transmission will never go away.

  • Mike

    The person who wrote this add is not an enthusiast. You can tell when they refer to the Hyundai as a sports car and wonder why no one buys it with a manual transmission.

  • Dj

    people are lazy so wouldn’t surprise me if it disappears. I my self just bought a ’13 Nissan juke manual. love it

  • Miggy

    stick shift FTW!

  • Carlo Abarth

    North American Fiat 500 Abarth has 100% manual transmission take rate.

  • Bob

    Obviously you have never driven a 2013 Genesis Coupe with the new V6. That thing is a pure sports car. You need to catch up, Hyundai doesn’t build shitty cars anymore. 

  • Obermd

    No – they just lie about their fuel economy.

  • Obermd

    I have to unfortunately disagree.  Pure electric drive trains only need two gears – one for forward and one for reverse.  Tesla’s are proof of this.  Until I can get a pure electric with decent range (400+ miles) and recharge times (15 minutes) I’ll stick with manuals, though.

  • I have a hyundai genesis coupe track model manual transmission and it is plagued by 5th gear syncro problems. I got trans replaced under warranty and not 10k miles later it is grinding again. Dealer denied warranty claim so I changed to a high quality thicker gear oil and the grind is gone.

    The car has survived multiple track days with full boltons with gains of 150hp over stock on 23 pounds of boost, not to mention me driving it like I stole it every single time I get in the drivers seat. All the interior plastics are cheaply made and scratch easy but what do you expect for $30K? The engine has not blown yet and I am pleasantly surprised.

  • Mrebman

    My 2012 Nissan Versa’s CVT transmission actually gets better fuel economy than the manual transmission.

  • James K

     It doesn’t really count when that’s the only way you can get it. And besides, the Abarth sucks.

  • Colum Wood

    Yes. That’s part of the reason why the stick-shift is dying off in small cars. CVTs and DCTs are actually more efficient.

  • Email

    Fuel economy is important but it is just one of the many things to consider when buying a car. For me, a manual transmission is an absolutely must. I love driving and I just can see myself enjoying it if I don’t have that stick to move around.

  • Al

    Angry at Hyudai for some reason, Obermd?

  • MMM

    Sports cars should always come in manual. Hopelessly expensive ferrari, lambo etc, are aimed at the rich market and most of those rich people arent good drivers and obviously they cant drive a stick shift car with a clutch. Manual is super pleasurable to drive and I hope car manufactures will continue to produce it in the future. 

  • Peter Cassie

    What do most of us really need from a car? Years of cheap trouble free motering! A good japanese manual not abused will usually last forever! My last Mazda 323 bought new has done 400 000 km, still on original clutch. I don’t think you will get many owners of small autos, CVTs or twin clutch units who can tell this story. Horror storys far too commen. Most transmission failures on older cars are so expensive to fix that the the car is a throw away whereas if you had bought manual the car would very likely get another 5 or more years of trouble free motoring.
    Also spare a thought for those not so rich (or sensible) folk who buy older cars and keep them running for years. The supply of second hand manuals is fast decreasing as the world gets lazier!
    Choose manual and it will save you many thousands over a lifetime.

  • dnnich .

    I keep cars till their death my 98 civic needs replacing. Cvts are for skidoo’s. The ones for cars aren’t changed by weights that’s how you have the tiptronic shift. That must mean it’s controlled electronically. No thank you most car problems are electronic.
    A standard you can start by pushing it if the battery is dead. I’ve had to do that a few times on mine and others. Also the clutch can be replaced, not take out your transmission and get some other persons rebuilt who abused the crap out of it (90% of the population).
    The big problem is the manufacturers don’t want to sell you manuals. consumers aren’t demanding reliability anymore so savvy customers get screwed.

  • ShaneMcGrath

    7 speed manual=LOL
    Reason I say this is in the 10 years I had my 6 speed v8 I only used 6th gear maybe 10 times when I got on a freeway to go somewhere different, Rest of time on normal roads to work and around town in traffic you wont be going past 5th gear unless you change your diff gears!
    Dual clutch autos are the future suck it up, Even a lot of the super cars now you will be hard pressed to find a manual, The advantages of manual changes have been long gone years ago, Speed and fuel savings have gone the autos have caught up. It’s all just of nostalgic value that is all, If you want the “feel” of changing gears but that’s it, Hell you can even do that to a certain extent in the basic autos these days, Change the gears like manual but without clutch, I prefer this as it makes it feel even more like a rebuilt auto box on drag strip just tap tap tap changing through gears.
    The 6 speed auto I have now absolutely craps all over my previous 6 speed manual, Best of everything, Peak hour traffic auto wins,speed auto wins,fuel economy auto now wins, fun factor auto wins now when you put in sports mode. Went through 3 clutches so glad manual days are over.

  • ShaneMcGrath

    It’s even better when you rip the engine out and throw in LS1 V8 and blower. 😉

  • Max Bass

    For those electric cars where you could recharge them in 15 minutes (when technology will be available for cars) you might have to wait a decade + another decade (at least) for them having range of 400+ miles. Our battery technology haven’t changed since 1991. They’ve just been adding and mixing things to squeeze out 10% here and there. I don’t believe electric is the way of the future anyway. For now, mix of gas+electic is a way to go to increase mileage. But pure electric- no. Besides batteries aren’t exactly great for environment. I guess we’ll have to wait till the global warming will take it’s bigger toll on us to realize that compressed air powered engine is pretty good (invented few years ago). Unfortunately refilling your tank with compressed air might cost you 5-10 dollars (to make money of course) and that’s not even close to be enough for companies to find a way to make big profits like it is with oil and batteries.

  • Max Bass

    7 gears I think it’s cool thinking but unnecessary for
    Porshe to save 2mpg. I mean, for 10,000 miles (considering 28mpg vs 26 mpg and
    $4 per gallon) you’d pay $1438 vs $1328
    for (26mpg). It is $110 difference. I don’t think someone who dropped over
    $100,000 on a car will think “hey I can save $110 a year on this deal!”. Lol.
    Now, I understand super cars going to automatics. I mean if a car goes 0-60 in
    3 seconds yeah, there’s no time to change gears. Just like formula one-
    automatic. They go thru 2-3 gears before you could change yours to the next.
    Now, when you’re talking about ‘fun factor’ that auto wins over manual- clearly
    manual is not for you nor ever was.

  • ShaneMcGrath

    As population grows and traffic becomes more congested there isn’t really any fun factor anymore but each to their own, Young drivers will learn the hard way just as I did but novelty wears off just like everything else.

  • ShaneMcGrath

    The range of compressed air is worse than electric and there is no torque, Also need energy to compress the air in the first place. I think the best they have done is less than 10km on a tank.Also that air in tank can be dangerous as it heats up. Electric will be the future for sure as battery technology improves. The other potential is hydrogen cars but I think electric will win out in the long run as infrastructure is there for it or soon will be. As more people adopt solar panels at home governments will find a way to charge you tax for recharging your car at home, Pathetic but it will happen. But yeah you are right will be another decade or two before its mass consumer cheap enough to own a full electric(unless tesla company has their way in next model)and for now it will be hybrids. Now that performance companies are starting to catch on with hybrid technology the general publics opinion of the laughable looking sluggish prius type cars have changed. Some of those hybrid supercars are now more powerful than the old combustion only supercars.

  • Max Bass

    Yeah, I heard all dangers of exploding air tank in case of accidents from American “experts” aka oil companies puppets (our US government). Same can be said about tank and gas except that when that thing explodes you get burned to death. But anyway. Your information about the range is wrong. Besides if that was the case French company wouldn’t be releasing first ever air powered engine in 2015 . They give range 117 miles which is twice if not more better than any pure electric car made in US. Fill up would take 2-3 minutes and you back on the road. Can’t do that with electric car. You might say yes, it takes energy to pump the air inside the tank but so does take electricity to pump the gas but considering emissions from gas engines VS. zero emissions from this one- it’s a closed case, no argument there who the winner is (electric car take a lot of energy to get those toxic batteries charged). Right now fill up costs $50 and up depending where you live in states. Wait till it gets higher and higher as oil companies rig market to crack up oil prices. Can’t do that with air, can you. As per solar panels, we’ll get only taxed if government install them on the street for us to use. Otherwise it’s a no go. Besides it’s the city that makes money on the electricity not really government is it? And even if they did charge a bit, I have no problem with that. There’s a reason why America is best to live in and that starts with strong government (sometimes unfortunately).

  • Max Bass

    Also, if that electric car (assuming moderators will allow my previous post to post with the link) would hit the US market right now, electric cars automakers would slowly run to the ground.

  • ShaneMcGrath

    Tesla model S gets 265 miles per charge on the 85kw pack and still gets 208 from the 60kw pack

  • Karl Haakonsen

    Amen! At last someone who is speaking my language. While I appreciate the fahrvergugen factor of driving a manual transmission, I acknowledge the improvements in performance and economy in today’s automatics. But that’s not the issue. When I see articles like this talking about economy in economy cars, they’re talking about an mpg or two in a car that already gets great fuel economy…. but they’re not talking about the huge cost of replacing the transmission when the inevitable failure occurs. I prefer the MT, but would accept a conventional automatic since most of them are durable enough to last for a long time. Like you, I tend to keep my cars a long time and the MT wins hands down for people like us.

  • Karl Haakonsen

    Amen. The issue isn’t how they drive, or the performance or the fuel economy… it’s how long you can get trouble-free operation out of your car (and the cost of repair when trouble happens).