Are Manual Cars Going Extinct?

Are Manual Cars Going Extinct?
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Like most car enthusiasts, I regularly wake up in the middle of the night in a panic, drenched in sweat, screaming the phrase “save the manuals!” over and over. It’s an issue that I’ve been working on with my therapist for months, but I think I’ve finally cracked it — I’m now done worrying about manuals going extinct.

Recently, a Reuters report quoted a BMW executive, who said the company would be getting rid of manual variants of the BMW 2 Series, the purest, most wonderful car in the Bavarian automaker’s lineup.

This Reuters report has been tearing me apart for the past few days, making me question whether this manual-less world is really a place worth living in, or if I should try to find a spot on one of those┬áMars colonies Elon Musk has been talking about. I’ve keep worrying about a future where I’m trying to explain to my grandchildren what a manual gearbox is, and it’s been downright horrifying.

But my melancholy came to an end today after friends and I had a conversation about entry-level sports cars. That’s because I realised: in perhaps the most Jalop segment of them all, manual transmission are not only common, they are essential.

Just think about it: Honda Civic SI, Subaru WRX, Ford Focus ST, VW Golf GTI, Hyundai Genesis, Ford Mustang, Chevy Camaro, Dodge Challenger, Nissan 370Z, Mini Cooper S, Fiat 500 Abarth, Hyundai Veloster Turbo, Ford Fiesta ST, Subaru BRZ, Toyota 86, Mazda MX-5, Fiat 124 — pretty much every single sub $40,000 sports car is available with a manual.

And some cars costing just above that — Civic Type R, Focus RS, WRX STI — come exclusively with manual gearboxes. We’re not just talking about a couple of niche cars, here, we’re talking about an entire segment that spans nearly a dozen brands. How can we possibly say manuals are going the way of the dodo when they’re so prevalent in this significant vehicle segment?

My point, here, is that while we might be disheartened when we read in the LA Times that the the percentage of manual transmission sales is “never going to go back up,” and that “The trajectory is down, headed for zero,” we’ve got to realise that that “headed for zero” thing is bullshit.

Manual gearboxes just aren’t going extinct anytime soon; entry-level sports car buyers want their stick shifts, and — based on the fact that pretty much every sub-$US30,000 ($39,152) sports car comes with a third pedal — it’s safe to say automakers are going to keep giving it to them.

It sucks about all the other segments — good luck finding a manual on a sedan these days or most 4WDs and crossovers — but hey, it helps me sleep at night knowing at least one segment certainly feels safe from the manual-stealing bean counters.

This epiphany has been like a breath of fresh air to me, revitalizing my spirits by helping me realise that our future generations will likely still be able to enjoy the beauty of rowing through their own gears.

As long as they buy cheap sports cars, that is.

This article originally appeared on Jalopnik.


  • Sooo, I guess you haven’t heard most of Europe will be phasing out the production of fossil fuel cars by 2025-30 and will be illegal to produce by 2050?

    Electric cars are all automatic, and judging by the tech trends, the cars will all drive themselves pretty soon. This would probably lead to Insurance companies driving up the cost of premiums on non autonomous vehicles, as their more likely to crash from human error. This in turn will eventually lead too driving your own car being made illegal, as it will not function on the driverless roads of the future.


    • Well, yes but that’s sort-of not the point. In an electric car your gearbox only has fwd & reverse since (unlike an internal combustion engine) you have full power at 0 rpm. There is a long way to go before car manufacturers ditch internal combustion sports cars for one reason – it’s very difficult to make a car perform nicely around corners with 2 tonnes of lithium ion in the floor. While all-electric autonomous vehicles will replace our standard cars, you can expect the M-series BMW’s, AMG Mercs and Nissan GTR’s to be the last cars still rolling off the production line in 2049.

      This story is referencing the fact that BMW is jawboning about ditching the manual gearbox on it’s newest high-power sports cars (M2,M3,M4, M5 etc) – leaving buyers with the option of full-auto or DCT. Their reasoning is actually sound – the new auto gearboxes and new DCT transmissions can handle more torque and shift faster than a MT. Also, MT buyers, while vocal, make up less than 5% of sales (even in these performance models). Take a 2017 DCT M2 or M5 for a test drive and give it a hiding in ‘Manual’ mode and you’ll see – you might not be able to drop the clutch (they have launch control for that), but you’re still entirely in control of the gearbox. I drive a steptronic and wouldn’t go back.

      But as David Tracy said – it’s not the death of the manual, it’s only the death of the ‘stick-shift’ in sports saloons. The ‘Z’ series roadsters are still very much manual, and the 2017 WRX STI doesn’t even have the OPTION of Auto/DCT/steptronic.

  • Given that VW revived manual options to help win back enthusiasts after problematic dry-sump DSG fiasco (especially in their Polo GTI lineup), I’m guessing they will be around for a while yet.

  • I love my manual car. Last time I rented a car in Europe, about 5 years ago, it was almost impossible to get an automatic – which was fine by me although it took a little getting used to shifting with my other hand. My last four cars have been manual and I’d not go back to an auto by choice. My Mini Cooper was a hoot to drive and my current car, an Alfa, is fun as well.

    • Yep – the European rental market alone will keep manuals alive, especially when you get them for around half the rate of the same car in automatic.

  • Very small cars are manuals because they have a tiny engine like my Toyota Echo which has a 1.3L engine, the smallest automatic Echo has a 1.5L.

    Regarding driving sporty manuals, I agree with one of the other posters that more electric vehicles will become mainstream and petrol manual cars will be niche products.

    I recall a 1960s era short story possibly by Asimov where police would search out people driving illegal petrol hotrods instead of wimpy silent EVs and the protagonist policeman was ‘turned’ by hearing the deep throated roar of a seized hotrod.
    At the time I recall that pollution was the driving force.

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