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Death of the manual transmission

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In 2020, only 5% of passenger cars and 1% of SUVs bought in Australia had a manual transmission. During 2019, even sales of electric vehicles were higher than sales of new manuals in the US. Electric vehicles are auto transmission only. It looks like we are witnessing the death of the manual transmission.

What are manufacturers doing?

Most manufacturers appear to favour automatic transmissions in the Australian market. Some brands, such as Jeep and MG, don’t sell any manual transmissions in this country. Ferrari and Lamborghini are automatic only and Peugeot and Mercedes-Benz offer manual in commercial vehicles only. However, manuals are more widely available in Utes and vans.

Toyota

  • Less than 5% of Toyotas sold are manual transmission
  • The popular Toyota Yaris and Corolla no longer have manual transmissions.

Ford

  • The Ford Fiesta ST is available in manual only
  • 29% of Mustang buyers chose manual but only 4.6% of Ranger buyers chose manual
  • Latest Ford Ranger models are automatic only.

Volkswagen

  • The brand will phase out manual transmissions by the end of this decade.

Hyundai

  • The basic i30 is still offered in a manual
  • Australians bought more than 2,700 i30 manual-only hot hatches
  • The i20 N will be manual-only when it launches later this year.

Hyundai appears to be taking a more nuanced approach.

Even so, Australian preferences are not necessarily shared all around the world. For example, manual transmissions are still dominant in the UK.

Brits still want to buy manuals

A decade ago only a quarter of new cars bought were automatic. By 2019, 49% of sales were automatics.

Yet UK data show 88.9% of driving tests were taken in manual cars in 2018-19 (latest figures). This was lower than 95.5% in 2011-12, but still dominant. Interestingly, pass rates are lower for those taking their test in automatics – only 39.5% v 45.9% in manuals.

With sales of petrol and diesel cars phasing out before 2030 and hybrids before 2035, all cars will be electric and automatic. That means new drivers won’t be able to drive many typical ‘first’ cars, and they won’t be able to drive a classic car with a manual transmission.

Learning to drive with a manual transmission

In NSW, if you got your P1 licence in an automatic, you can drive only automatics until you pass your P2 licence.

There is an upside to learning in manual cars. Controlling a clutch, listening to and changing gears keeps young drivers on the task.

For example, a study on the driving performance of teenage boys  found manual driving kept their attention. Clearly, having hands and feet occupied makes it harder to multitask. Perhaps this is why UK manual drivers were more likely than automatic drivers to pass their tests.

Is it possible automatic transmissions have diluted driving skills and allowed us to become more distracted? If that is so, it may be worthwhile updating the driving test to increase skills in driving electric vehicles.

More skilled drivers may get cheaper greenslips.

Corrina Baird

Writer and expert greenslips.com.au

Corrina used to lend her car to her kids and discovered first hand what Ls, Ps and demerits mean for greenslips. After 20 years of writing and research in financial services, she’s an expert in the NSW CTP scheme. Read more about Corrina

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