Is the Manual Gearbox Making a Comeback ?

It was said to be doomed by increasingly stringent pollution standards and the electrification movement that has taken the automotive world by storm. An article in the Wall Street Journal indicates that things are not as black and white. In 2021, stick shift enthusiasts comprised only 0.9% of the U.S. auto market. By 2022, that number jumped to 1.2%, and sales figures for the first few months of 2023 indicate that the proportion has already hit 1.7%. This is still very marginal, but it does represent an increase of nearly 89%. The phenomenon also seems to be visible on the used car market, as the Autotrader website records a 13% increase in visits to manual transmission pages compared to last year.

What Has Changed?

Choosing a manual transmission today is no longer done for fuel economy, better acceleration or reduced purchase cost. Apparently, it is primarily for reasons of control, in a world where computers decide more and more things for us. There’s also a heavy dose of nostalgia and driving pleasure in the mix.

Shifting gears yourself is also a sign of individuality, at least according to social media trends that have fed the #SaveTheManuals movement, which has gained a lot of traction.

Photo: Guillaume Rivard

Manufacturers are Watching and Learning

A quarter of U.S. sales of the new Acura Integra are already equipped with a manual. Of those buyers, more than half are between 18 and 45 years old. Mazda has calculated that a quarter of its manual Miata buyers are between the ages of 18 and 35. MINI has conducted a study that revealed that nearly two thirds of 18-34-year-olds want to learn how to drive manual, compared to 40% in older age groups.

While the demand is there, the supply has shrunk in recent years. Is this just another phase? A shooting star in an otherwise pretty uncertain automotive future? Only time will tell. But after decades of automobile shaming, it is very pleasing to see that the younger generations are once again associating driving with pleasure.

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