Cars with stick shifts selling brisk again as drivers want to save on gas

Dave Masko's picture

CENTRAL OREGON COAST – The roaring shout of Jay’s MG as it screeched to a stop - using his handy stick shift that “makes driving a sports car so fun" - is one good reason why manuals are making a come back.

Stick shift car sales are on the rise, states a May 1 report in USA Today stating that as of March, “6.5 % of new vehicles sold were manual; and close to double the rate in each of the past five years and the highest since 7.2% in 2006” due to manuals being less expensive and offering better fuel performance. Also, you would be hard pressed to find a “proper” sports car that’s not equipped with manual transmission because local MG owner Jay says “the stick offers more direct driver involvement.” This Baby Boomer sports car fan also thinks “manual offers you better performance and gas mileage.” In turn, a May 1 report in USA Today proclaimed “Americans love stick shifts again;” while explaining how more care buyers are now choose less-expensive manuals to safe on both the cost of the car and gas during these uncertain economic times. “I think it’s a good business move to go retro and go back to driving manuals,” added Jay with a big grin on his face; while knowing his wife Diane “hats manuals. The joke in our family is girls can’t drive a stick because both my wife and daughter can’t drive my MG because they only can drive automatics.” Thus, it’s no surprise that the USA Today reported noted how “Americans have a growing crush on manual transmissions.”

Manual transmission returns to favor in the US

Over in Europe, where most cars use a manual gearbox or “standard transmission,” the one good reason to stick with a manual is gas savings with most European countries already paying the equivalent of $7 to $10 for a gallon of gas.

For instance, jump into a rental in London, Rome or Madrid and you will notice a driver-operated clutch, that’s typically operated by a foot pedal. “If you can’t drive it, you may be out of luck because most Euro car rentals,” reported a recent European travel program.

Also, USA Today reported May 1 how “the share of new vehicles bought with stick shifts remains a small slice of U.S. auto sales because most models don’t even offer them.”

However, the new 2012 Focus Titanium has a stick-shift version, as to other leading car brands that are returning to manuals as customers request more fuel-efficient autos to drive.

A high school text book on the “benefits” of manual cars:

-- Fuel economy: A high school text book for new car drivers here in Oregon explains how the manual transmission “couples the engine to the transmission with a rigid clutch instead of the torque converter on an automatic transmission.” Thus, because of this “manual transmissions generally offer better fuel economy than automatic transmissions.” According to the AAA, the increased fuel economy with a manual versus an equivalent automatic can range from “5 to 15 percent” in gas savings depending on driving conditions and driving style.

-- Longevity and cost: If you ever visit Europe, notice how old many of those little compact manual cars are and you will realize that, as the text book states, “manual transmissions are mechanically simpler, with fewer moving parts to go wrong.” Still, manuals are far less popular in the U.S. than Europe or many other parts of the world where the stick shift is still king. This is the case because manuals cost less than automatics.

-- Performance and control: The high school textbook noted how manuals offer a wider selection of gear ratios; allowing “higher performance, by staying closer to the engine’s peak power.” Also, in contrast to most manual gearboxes, most automatics have “far less effective engine breaking,” the text book stated.

Moreover, USA Today noted how manuals are “typically at least $1,000 cheaper than the automatic,” and “many people consider manuals more fun.”

Manual returns to favor in the US

Things are changing in the world of driving.

For instance, USA Today report quoted a driver who stated: “In these compact cars, it’s easier to get the most power from the manual.”

While that view is not new with most stick shift fans, the fact that drivers are talking about manuals again is new in 2012.

In general, USA Today also stated that “people driving sticks seem to be buying them again. The average trade –in now is 6.1 years old.”

Overall, the reported now how “initially, higher-income buyers wanted only automatics.” But, Dodge saw change coming ahead of this summer’s launch of its 2013 Dart compact. Marketing manager Richard Cox predicts up to 20% will sell with manuals, split among the price-conscious and those who believe a stick is the way to enjoy Dart’s European Alfa Romeo underpinnings.”

Image source of a floor-mounted gear stick in a modern passenger car with a manual transmission. Photo courtesy Wikipedia


Submitted by Dez Miklos (not verified) on
While in theory it is true that a manual tranny is more fuel efficient than an automatic, I challenge anyone to drive manual for more than two hours in heavy city traffic or in a rush hour situation where the traffic creeps and crawls. Many many people will over rev the engine, using up precious fuel thus negating the efficiency of the manual tranny. I do admit that here are very fe wpeople who are good at driving manual. In your daily drives observe how people really do drive manual tranny vehicles and you will end up shaking your head. This is why many commercial companies with fleets have converted to automatic transmission. Plus the another act is that too manny manual drivers ride the clutch, making the replacement necessary. So much for the economy of driving a manual tranny vehicle. But in the end it its still a lot of fun.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on
My first car was an 8 cyl automatic, my second car a 4 cyl automatic. After that I decided that if I was to get a 4 cyl again, I would do manual transmission. For 17 yrs after that I drove a 4 cyl 5-speed Chevy. Then in 2008, when I needed a new car, I wanted a larger car than my old Cavalier. Toyota Camry, Honda Accord & Nissan Altimas all were available as manual--Chevy Malibu was not. At 1st I was going to get another manual in the Honda, but the 5 speed automatic transmissions they put in these new cars get about the same mpg, so I opted to get an automatic. It was fun driving the manual, but as you say, in traffic sucked and I often drive on the highway with cruise control which didn't work all that well in 5th gear (small hills really bogged it down) automatic can downshift if necessary even in cruise control.

Add new comment