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Most drivers don’t want manual work

When was the last time you drove a manual car? These days, most drivers want automatics and manufacturers don’t even offer manual versions of new models. Is this the end of the gear lever? Or will manual cars now appeal to keen collectors?

Demand for manuals is falling

Automatics used to be a luxury and, like early labour-saving devices, only for the lucky few. Enthusiasts claimed they were not as precise as manual transmissions. Now automatics are more sophisticated and can even change to manual transmission, if desired. Moreover, electric cars have no multi-gear transmission at all.

Demand for cars with a gear stick is certainly falling:

  • Edmunds says only 13% of new car models sold so far in 2020 in the US were manuals, compared to 37% in 2011
  • During 2019, sales of electric cars in the US even exceeded sales of new manuals.

Even in 2018, only 9.2% of vehicles sold in Australia had a gear stick. Another way to view demand is to look at sales of the ever-popular Toyota Corolla. From 2015 to 2019, demand for manual Corolla sedans dropped by a precipitous 86%. For the first time in July 2020, SUVs made up more than half of sales and nearly all SUVs are automatics.

Drivers can still choose from 300 makes and models of vehicle in a manual version. The cheapest new manual is currently the Kia Picanto.

What does this all mean for young people who want to learn to drive?

Young people don’t want to drive them

It appears most young people have no interest in learning to drive with a gear stick. Given they see their parents driving automatics, it’s not surprising. Meanwhile in regional areas, young people have to learn to drive farm and heavy vehicles, which come with an automatic gearbox.

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 with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, found this kind of driving kept their attention. Clearly having hands and feet occupied makes it harder to multitask.

Is it possible that automatic transmissions have diluted driving skills and, consequently, allowed drivers to become more distracted?

More fun to drive

Some people say manuals are just more fun to drive. It appears they feel much more in control and more connected to their car that way. They prefer a manual for its “driving dynamics”, where an automatic driver may prefer to let the car do what it is good at doing.

One afficianado said: “Driving a gear stick vehicle is one of the purest forms of the marriage of man and machine”.

People who relate to this may start to become collectors of manual cars, to keep the love alive.

Unfortunately, it makes no difference whether you drive a manual or automatic when it comes to 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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