business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

I've gone on the record here - one might say I've shown my true colors - as someone who will give up my manual transmission when they pry it from my cold dead fingers.

The evidence seemed to be that I was in a shrinking minority, but a Wall Street Journal story (that many of you emailed to me) gives me hope:

"Stick shift loyalists aren’t taking the electric-car revolution lying down.

"Following a decadeslong decline, three-pedaled vehicles are experiencing a modest but real resurgence. Manuals accounted for 1.7% of total new vehicle sales in 2023, according to data analytics company J.D. Power, up from 1.2% last year and a low of 0.9% in 2021. The Autotrader marketplace reports a 13% rise in page views for new manual cars in 2023 compared with this time last year.

"Manual sedans no longer necessarily get better fuel mileage, cost less or accelerate faster than automatic ones do, auto pros say. Drivers who are sticking with sticks say that taking control of their clutches not only makes driving more fun but also provides a counter to an increasingly automated world—especially as more buyers shift to mostly single-gear electric vehicles."

According to the story, "Mini recently added three new models to its lineup of stick shifts, with four more coming this month. Manual is now the only option on three of Mazda’s five versions of MX-5 Miata. Acura brought a manual option back to the Integra in June after discontinuing stick shifts in its lineup in 2015. The company is releasing a higher-performance Integra with no automatic option later this year."

But here's what's really interesting - it doesn't seem to be curmudgeons like me who are driving the resurgence:

"These cars entice younger consumers in the same way that vinyl records and point-and-shoot cameras do, manufacturers say. Over half of those who opted for manual Integras are between 18 and 46 years old, and about a quarter of those who bought manual Miatas in 2022 are between 18 and 35, the companies say."

One of the advantages of having a young person driving a manual transmission, parents say, is that their kids can't text if they need both hands to drive.

The Journal notes that "manufacturers acknowledge that traditional stick shifts might not be around forever as they take their fleets electric. Manufacturers sold 43 different manual models in 2022, according to J.D. Power, compared with 69 in 2019. While a few EVs do have more than one gear, auto makers are still figuring out how to translate the experience of maneuvering a manual to their electric car lineups more broadly."

For almost 30 years, my cars - all ragtops - have had manual transmissions - two Miatas, and now, a Mustang.  Before that, we actually had a Toyota Camry station wagon with a manual transmission (which admittedly wasn't the best idea, since we also had kids riding in it).  And for a brief time I had an old Triumph Spitfire with a manual transmission.  (Which actually was the only part of the. car that worked - the electrical system was horrible, and I finally had to sell it because it was too expensive to keep on the road.  When I bought my first Miata, it was like driving a Triumph that actually worked.)

I'm happy about the generational resurgence that manual transmissions are experiencing.  The Journal story is an Eye-Opener, reflecting a trend that is rooted in the love of actual driving, when you can sense the road and feel the gears and even, in my case, the wind and sun and the promise of a good day.