stick shift, gear shift, manual transmission, manual car, car shift, gear shifter

What's Killing the Stick Shift?

April 28, 2009 10:30 AM
by Haley A. Lovett
Twenty years ago, half of male car buyers wanted a stick shift; these days, manual transmission cars make up only about 7 percent of new car sales, but why?

Why People Are Buying Fewer Manual Cars

The stick shift, at one time the only type of car available, is losing ground in the car market. Last year only 13 percent of drivers under 25 bought a stick shift, compared with a third of those drivers buying manual transmission cars in 1998.

The reasons are many, according to a McClatchy article. The slow decline in popularity of manual transmission cars has made it less likely that a young driver will learn on a manual, and thus less likely that he will ever buy a manual. Another potential reason is marriage. Married couples tend to buy automatic transmission cars more often than manual cars, perhaps because one spouse cannot drive a stick shift. Also, because fewer people are looking to buy manual transmission cars, their resale value is lower than that of automatics.

Even the motorcycle industry, once dominated by manual transmissions, is making a move toward the automatic. Honda recently released the DN-01, an automatic transmission motorcycle. The company is looking to attract new riders who don't want to learn to use a manual transmission, and older riders looking for the latest in motorcycle technology. Honda may also be looking for a piece of the pie that scooters—smaller, two-wheeled, automatic transmission bikes—have gotten lately. Scooters now make up 25 percent of two-wheeler sales.

However, cars with standard transmissions do still hold an appeal for some. For example, manual cars tend to be less expensive than automatic cars, usually in the range of $1,000 less. A 2008 study by Consumer Reports comparing manual and automatic transmission mileage found that a manual transmission can improve gas mileage by 2 to 5 mpg. Also, interest in manual transmissions by women has actually grown over the past 20 years even though it has declined for the population as a whole.

Background: The death and resurrection of the electric car

The stick shift may not be doomed. In the late 1990s speculation ran wild as to why companies such as General Motors abandoned electric cars, and it was thought that the electric car had seen its last days. But in recent years a new wave of electric cars has hit the markets, and the battery-powered car may soon secure its place in the auto world.

The Tesla, a sports car that can travel more than 200 miles without needing a recharge, made its debut in the U.K. last year. This car, along with planned electric/gas hybrid models from big auto manufacturers, hopes to address the problems with early electric car models such as poor battery performance.

The state of Oregon recently made a move to increase the use of electric vehicles by soliciting bids to build charging stations throughout the state for electric cars. The hope is that if a standard network of charging stations is created, consumers will be more likely to use the electric cars without fear of not being able to recharge. In the late 1990s competing methods of charging the electric cars added to the woes of consumers.

Hawaii is also on board the electric car movement. The state is encouraging residents to switch to electric cars by offering incentives and by partnering with Better Place, a company that will build charging stations around the state. The small size of the state makes Hawaii an ideal place to use electric cars, which typically cannot drive as far on one charge as a gas car could drive on a tank of gas.

Reference: Buying a Car


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