By on October 17, 2019

1991 Toyota Camry in Colorado wrecking yard, manual gearshift - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

Ready to be depressed? Your author knows he is. After buying a new manual-transmission vehicle last year, the model he purchased has since fallen under Mary Barra’s axe, and the transmission type he so loves is now rarer than an albino moose.

How rare? The number of electric vehicles sold in the third quarter of this year is greater than the number of manual-transmission cars sold during the same period. Life comes at you fast.

That factoid comes by way of Tyson Jominy, J.D. Power’s vice president of automotive data and analytics consulting. Blame two things for the automotive upset.

Well, you can blame a lot more than just two things, but the introduction and production ramp-up of the Tesla Model 3 and Ford and General Motors’ distaste for small cars takes a lot of the heat. Small cars sales were falling for years even as buyers increasingly gravitated to automatics, making for an ever smaller market penetration for the transmission type. Once offered in several trims on low-end and sporty models, waning stickshift demand saw automakers increasingly outfit only the base trim of new models with the unit. High-end automakers have largely abandoned the three-pedal layout.

Reading the writing on the wall, Ford and GM went ahead and pulled the plug on the U.S.-market Focus, Fiesta, and Cruze, nearly eliminating domestic choice for the budget car shopper. Despite an already low take rate, the scrapping of these compacts and the rising use of automatics and CVTs in the segment’s remaining entries saw manual transmission sales fall 40 percent between Q3 2018 and Q3 2019.

The transmission’s market penetration stood at 1.1 percent in the last quarter, while EVs, aided greatly by the Model 3 but also a new Nissan Leaf, the Hyundai Kona Electric, and others, pushed that segment’s take of the U.S. market to 1.9 percent.

I suppose if my car’s totalled in an accident, I’ll have to look at a base Volkswagen Jetta — it offers a pretty similar setup as the defunct Cruze, right down to the engine displacement and big trunk. There’s still choice out there if you want to get into a stickshift vehicle, though the remaining options are mostly on the low end (assuming you’re looking for something with a useable back seat). And you might have to wait while they find a loss leader for you. Jeep, bless its heart, isn’t scrapping the clutch pedal anytime soon, so the Wrangler/Gladiator remains an option who like giving their left legs a workout.

People will cling to any shred of hope in times of adversity, even if they know they’re doomed.

[Image: Murilee Martin/TTAC]

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79 Comments on “Manual Transmission Update: No One’s Going to Save This Situation...”


  • avatar
    Big Smoke

    Steph – Your manual transmission, is also an anti theft devise.
    Any boomer-ish thief will have no idea how to abscond with your new ride.
    You should in fact, ask for a reduction in your insurance.
    Big Smoke fact … ;)

    • 0 avatar
      Jean-Pierre Sarti

      I agree! Amazing how many stupid criminals videos you see thwarted by a manual transmission.

      BTW, if I am not mistaken that could have been a picture of the interior of my first car, 1989 Camry DX 5 sp manual! Baby blue exterior too. Loved that blue velor(?) and interior. Not sure what it was made of but was super comfortable. I genuinely miss the 80’s kitschy style.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      I think you meant POST-boomerish. It’s the under 35 age group that doesn’t remember driving the VW bug. Or a TR3. Or a MGA. Or a GTO with a 4-speed Hurst. Or… Wow, I really feel sorry for the younger generation – we leading edge boomers – born 1946-1950, and got our licenses in the ’60s – we had a blast behind the wheel. Sorry, kids, you missed it.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        Meh, the ’80s were fine too. Saab Turbos, BMWs, GTIs and GLIs, etc.

        • 0 avatar
          Lorenzo

          Meh yourself. 1980s styling sucked. The 1960s were the Cambrian explosion of styling, a one-time revelation with rough mechanicals unfettered by detuning and rudimentary smog controls.

          Cars and gas were cheaper, and teens had jobs that paid enough to afford their own cars, and customize them. By the ’80s, cars were smaller, more expensive, and had little egg beater engines that needed turbos to be drivable. The typical cars of the ’80s: The GM Citation disaster, and the Chrysler K-car

          What they lacked was the seat-of-the-pants feeling, the roar of the engine, the sound of the exhaust note that made driving a car an adventure. By the ’80s, that was all gone – it’s no wonder people today think of cars as appliances.

      • 0 avatar
        jack4x

        Meh, us younger folks can buy 500, 600, even 700 hp cars with a stick and a factory warranty. Or even pick up one of the older cars you remember so fondly if we’re so inclined.

        Mainstream cars may be getting less and less interesting, but there’s still plenty of great choices out there. I’m 34 and overall don’t regret living in this automotive era even if I’d prefer less downsizing and more manuals.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      Boomers all know how to drive a stick, with rare exceptions, as did their parents. Gen-Xer’s like me mostly know how. Millennials generally have no idea. Their kids won’t know what a manual transmission is.

    • 0 avatar
      saturnotaku

      I got a quote for insurance on a 2019 Civic Si, and it was only $2 more per month than my 2017 Hyundai Tucson.

    • 0 avatar
      FormerFF

      Realistically, it’s extremely difficult to get any late model car started without the key or key fob, the stick shift doesn’t mean much for that. A motivated thief will use a rollback truck and just drag it away.

  • avatar
    Lichtronamo

    VW has indicated the MK8 GTI will still offer a manual. I can see it being the last generation to do so however.

  • avatar
    JMII

    Yep the war is over… we lost.

    Sadly my current car is the last 3 pedal machine I’ll own. Unless during my retirement I get a garage and decided to wrench on some old thing. However lets be realistic, chances of that are pretty slim.

  • avatar
    TR4

    The manual transmission is becoming extinct, but the lighted driver’s side make-up mirror is not. Cheers!

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Just gave my last manual transmission vehicle to my nephew, I will miss it but I have visiting rights. In 20 1/2 years it never failed me and with proper care it could go another 20 years.

  • avatar
    Jon

    Welcome to the age when vehicles are no longer machines designed to perform a task. Now they are machines designed to comfort and entertain a society who is addicted to themselves.

    One another note: Any news on the new 7-speed that is supposed to go into the new Bronco?

  • avatar
    theflyersfan

    As long as there is still an MX-5 or a Civic Type-R or (I hope) a GTI, there will still be some slight glimmer of hope for a stick shift. All three have the best throws, short and direct, with the right amount of clutch play and smoothness that can make it easy to learn and fun to master. I know traffic is worse everywhere, and no one really loves battling a stick in gridlock, but life isn’t just gridlock. Life in those cars is meant to explore and have some fun on those kinds of roads they were built for. Having a stick in a car like that means you haven’t curled up and died…that your Saturday isn’t spent going to another Target sale, but it is spent tearing up that road near you. Live a little…life’s too short to drive dull.

    • 0 avatar
      MBella

      I never understood the frustration with the manual in traffic. I have found a manual to be easier in traffic than most autos. That being said, after selling my Miata, I don’t have a manual in the first time in my driving life.

      • 0 avatar
        FormerFF

        I used to drive a stick shift Focus in traffic. It was very easy, the Focus had a low first gear, a heavy flywheel, and was tuned for low end torque. I’d just slowly let out the clutch without touching the accelerator and the car would roll forward at walking speed,

        Yeah, you have to keep clutching and releasing, but it’s not like you have something else to do.

        Driving a high strung sports car in heavy traffic, like an old 911S, wouldn’t be fun, but why would you do that to such a car?

        • 0 avatar
          Robotdawn

          My last stick got the boot for traffic. I DO have better things to do that grind through 1st 2nd repeat 40 times each way.
          I may get another stick some day, assuming they exist, but it won’t be with a commute like that.

        • 0 avatar
          Tele Vision

          @FormerFF

          Can confirm. My girlfriend and I took a Testarossa out in the city. It belonged to a dealership that my friend was a partner of. I wasn’t allowed to take the race-prepped C5 or the Monster Miata but a Ferrari was ok, weirdly. It was horrible. Rubberneckers everywhere; heavy clutch and weird engagement; smell of raw fuel, etc. We were back in 20 minutes. My CTS-V, on the other hand, can ease away from a stop at idle in first or second gear. In truth I get bored in traffic driving my truck or The Herself’s SUV – and sometimes stab at an imaginary clutch pedal…

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    I find it hard to work up real mourning for the manual transmissions in the average econobox. I do however miss the availability of manual transmissions in 1/2 ton trucks, especially paired with a small V8. I miss that manuals are going away from so called sports sedans like the BMW 3 series.

    If in several years when I am in the market again there is a G70 or equivalent car with manual trans and RWD it will be a serious contender for my dollars. (I also know I am a 0.tiny percentage of the market.)

    • 0 avatar
      jack4x

      I believe the G70 is already the only car in that class to offer a manual. I hope its still around in several years but I don’t have a lot of hope.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      The lack of manual transmissions saves me a TON of money. I would certainly have an Alfa Giulia and an F30 BMW wagon in my garages otherwise.

      I feel like I have likely bought my last new cars. Assuming I am never able to talk myself into a new Cayman before that too drops the manual option.

      I don’t care if automatics are “better”, I prefer to shift for myself. And I am stubborn enough to not compromise when spending multiple 10’s of thousands of dollars.

      • 0 avatar
        TMA1

        It was thoughtful of Alfa to save me those thousands as well. Kia too, with their Stinger. I did buy a new GTI, manual, but it was thousands less than either of those auto-only cars that I would have been interested in otherwise.

  • avatar
    IBx1

    Y’all join up with Manual Elitist Jerks on Facebook; we are unwavering in our commitment.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Pour one out.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    I drove a stick for most of my first 33 years behind the wheel. I don’t really miss it, especially my knees. Plus, it’s better to have a car my wife can drive if needed.

    A well-maintained (hydraulic) automatic can go just as far as a clutch, but my real preference today is a single-speed, EV-style. I’m leery of the DCTs which give dry clutches a bad name.

    • 0 avatar
      thegamper

      That has been my main issue. My wife and I switch cars often enough depending on who can take kids places and she won’t drive a manual, even though she knows how. Ill have another someday, hopefully the MX5 is around still.

      But, the demise of the manual transmission is a self fulfilling prophesy. It’s pretty hard to sell them when dealers won’t stock them.

    • 0 avatar
      jh26036

      I’m with this guy.

      Only about 20 years of driving for me but I am about to give up my DD manual and adopt a single speed EV.

  • avatar
    jalop1991

    The 6 speed DSG on my GTI is a thing of wonder and beauty.

    I no longer mourn for a clutch and stick. I do, however, mourn for a wonderful DCT. Audi has gone to planetary gearsets, for example, and I hear the current 7 speed DCT in the GTI/R is not as good as my unit.

    • 0 avatar
      FormerFF

      The DCT is pretty much only in sporty cars now, although Hyundai/Kia use it in their hybrids.

    • 0 avatar
      northeaster

      I have to say, I’m impressed by how smooth the DSG in my 2018 A4 is; the comparison is with a 5 speed B5.5 I had for 13 years before that.

      It’s annoying, though, that a few times a week the algorithm for picking the next gear just screws up and there’s a second or two wait before it does the right downshift (it never figures out it needs to drop a couple instead of one the first time).

  • avatar
    Brumus

    Folks are stunned my recently purchased Jeep Compass has a 6-speed manual. In fact, I’m still stunned every time I drive it…

    Alas, after 30 years of driving nothing but manuals (save for a short time with a Dodge 600 when my Subaru died) I’m resigned to the fact this Compass will be my last vehicle with a stick. And goddamnit, I will miss it.

    • 0 avatar
      R Henry

      I rented an automatic Compass and could not believe how poor that 9-speed performed. With a manual, I would have really liked Compass. I hope you have good luck with yours!

      • 0 avatar
        Brumus

        Yes, that 9-speed auto is wretched; no bloody way we would have bought a Compass if that was the only transmission available.

        Another oddity with the Compass: the 6-speed manual is available with AWD (in Canada at least, most manual transmissions in this class were largely, if not exclusively restricted to FWD models).

  • avatar
    roloboto

    I have a two year old daughter. When it’s time to teach her to drive, you better belive im going to buy some junker with a manual transmission to teach her on.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Ya, that’s it, it’s GM and Ford’s fault.

    Or we can go through TTAC archives and read the writings of Baruth, Ed, and even the reviled Bertel. They pointed out over, and over, and over again, the buyers of new cars aren’t the customers, they are the dealers. Dealers have shied away from stocking manual transmission cars, funky colored exterior cars, weirdly optioned cars, and funky interior colored cars because they are harder to sell. Oh sure, we’ll let you do a factory order but those factory to dealer incentives are only for vehicles in stock, you’ll have to wait eight weeks, and we aren’t going to deal.

    The death of the manual transmission is in large part because the main customer, that being the dealership owners, don’t want them sitting collecting dust while they pay interest on their floor financing loans. This trend has gone on for over a decade.

    The second killer? Automatic transmissions are now better in every respect. They shift faster, the automatic generally speaking now offers the faster 0-60 and 1/4 mile time and better fuel economy. The automatic for most cars is as service fee as a manual, and will likely outlive the clutch plates of a manual today with just one or two fluid swaps if that.

    The final killer? Traffic in the United States absolutely sucks in many locations. The places where driving a manual isn’t an exercise in…excercise…are become harder and harder to find.

    So, dealers don’t want to stock them in the first place, used car lots don’t want to touch them at auction, the advantage of a manual has largely been estinguished, and even if you had a manual, driving one in 21st Century America largely sucks.

    But hey, Ford and GM hate small cars (FCA stopped making them years ago, Toyota killed the Yaris and the Prius C, and lets not forget the xA, xB, xD and tC while we’re pouring one out for the death of the manual). How about the Germans and them walking away en masse???

    Ya, Ford and GM man – it’s all on them.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      Automatics are not better in every respect. I like driving a manual better, so in that respect they are inferior. And since it’s my money, I won’t spend it on something that annoys me. I don’t NEED to buy new cars. I have five perfectly lovely ones (all manuals) that I put diddly amounts of miles on every year.

      But I definitely agree with you on the chicken and egg issue of nobody buys manuals because there aren’t any to buy. I had to order my BMW wagon to get it in RWD with a stick back in 2011 – there wasn’t a single one in the Eastern half of the country in 2011. There was ONE stickshift Cayman in south Florida for me to test drive out of probably a hundred at the various dealerships – and that is a bloody sportscar!

    • 0 avatar
      ToolGuy

      APaGttH,

      Agreed on the dealer issue. But tying manual transmission availability to base model trims was a silly contributor to the demise.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      You are putting the car before the horse, so to speak, just as those people you mention have.

      Fact is there was a time when you walked into any brand dealership and you would find more manual transmission sub-compacts, compacts and compact trucks than you would find ones equipped with an automatic.

      As you mentioned dealers don’t want vehicles that will sit on their lot for a long time and eat up floor plan $$ and taking up expensive space in their lot.

      Dealers did not stop stocking manual transmissions in those segments because they wanted to turn away willing buyers. The reason dealers stopped stocking them is because people stopped buying them.

    • 0 avatar

      Most dealers will deal on a factory order. Frankly it makes more sense because of the points you said about interest. I don’t have to pay interest on a car I already have a home for. It also builds good customer relations. Further, incentives generally can be locked in with most manufacturers, and at the very least you get the incentives when your car gets in, which in most cases is better anyhow since you’re now later in the model year. Basically your first whole concept is silly.

      Automatics are better just like artificial insemination… some of us would rather have fun.

  • avatar
    Hummer

    It’s a damn good thing I already own my dream team of vehicles, being an enthusiast has never been harder. The load of crap sitting on dealers lots today is cringeworthy.

  • avatar
    jkross22

    There are just not enough people who see driving as something other than a way to get to work, Target, the gym and the occasional road trip. We’re too invested in being distracted, and shifting just gets in the way of texting, liking someone’s lunch pictures and screwing with our seat heaters.

    It is what it is.

    That being said, go drive the new manual GLI.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I thoroughly enjoyed my manual 99 S-10 and all the manuals I have had except the 85 Mercury Lynx. I was more engaged and more aware of my driving when driving a manual. If most of us are going to be driving EVs in the future then we will not have manuals anyway. For those who want a manual buy one now even if it is a subcompact or compact because those will eventually disappear soon. Even the midsize pickups have discontinued manuals for the most part except the Frontier which will eventually be replaced and the Tacoma TRD Off road.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    “The number of electric vehicles sold in the third quarter of this year is greater than the number of manual-transmission cars sold during the same period.”

    This means little. Buyers of electrics were never potential buyers for MT

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    “I really prefer single speed transmissions” said no one at a track day,club meet , car show

    • 0 avatar
      slap

      ““I really prefer single speed transmissions” said no one at a track day,club meet , car show”

      Most electric cars have single speed transmissions.

    • 0 avatar
      Charliej

      Who cares what other people say. You drive to please yourself not someone else. I drive an automatic equipped vehicle, the last vehicle I will ever own. I only drive about a hundred miles a month, why do I need a manual? If I want fun, I ride my motorcycle. I enjoy it far more than the car and I will continue to enjoy it until I am no longer physically able to do so.

    • 0 avatar
      MoparRocker74

      And those EV fanbois wont be at track days, club meets, car shows etc in any greater numbers than vegans atba TX bbq.

  • avatar
    slap

    Bought a manual transmission wagon two weeks ago. Could be my last manual because we hold on to our cars a long time, and when it’s time to replace one, electric cars may have taken over.

  • avatar
    CammerLens

    I prefer driving a manual, too — even in hellacious LA rush-hour traffic — but now I’m wondering if I should mothball my 2018 Accord 2.0T 6MT and get some sort of CVT econopod for commuting duty so I don’t use up what may be the last MT new car I’m ever able to buy.

  • avatar
    MorrisGray

    If Steph wants to replace his Chev Cruze then he still has a lot of choices. There is the Civic, Corolla, Jetta, Golf, Forte, Elantra GT, Veloster, Accord and more. Mazda3 hatchback but only in top trim….

  • avatar
    packardhell1

    So much doom and gloom! You guys and gals have plenty of manual options for daily drivers in the medium-duty world. Sure, you’ll get less than 12 mpg, but you also get way more than 4, 5, or 6 speeds. Get a crew cab ex-moving truck with a 10-speed Eaton Road Ranger or Spicer. Let’s not forget Costco carrying capacity in that 40′ box or towing capacity to put your neighbor’s F-350 to shame. We just have to look *inside* the box.

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    I am a “manuals for life” kind of guy – and thank goodness the Mustang can still be bought with one. I was hot to sell my Mustang and get something more ahem “executive” like an old Lexus 430/460 since I do miss having a big car, and that would mean giving up a manual. But then I realized this is an end of an era. I’ll keep throwing mods and treating the Mustang as a daily driver toy until the day an electric car comes along that can be bought and maintained in Michigan. From what I’ve read, Tesla ownership can be a real PITA here.

    And to tell the truth I really don’t mind the 5-speed automatic in my wife’s 2008 Infiniti M37x. It doesn’t hunt through the gears or (for the most part) have that unsettling lurch between shifts that I’ve experienced with some cars. The transmission is willing to drop the hammer and go faster than I could downshift. I don’t know if the 7-speed Infiniti auto is as good as their old 5-speed though.

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    I think I am… but I’m just not a GM guy any more which would make my grandfather – who worked for them – roll in his grave. I’ll go off and look at some used SS prices and see if my mind can be changed.

  • avatar
    threeer

    It has very little to do with “automatics are as fast and fuel efficient as manuals” and more to do with “a majority of drivers now are too lazy to want to shift themselves.” I see this progressing down the road of a wider acceptance of autonomous vehicles.

    Me? I thoroughly enjoyed rowing my own gears on my commute this morning in my Jetta Wagon. Efficiency be damned…a well-executed shift out of a corner is still a thing of beauty to me.

  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    I alternate between two daily drivers–one stick and one automatic. When I get tired of one, I switch to the other.

  • avatar
    focal

    Already accepted that my F30 BMW and Cayman GT4 will be my last two manual cars. I’ll keep them as long as they sell gasoline. I’m already looking for a small commuter BEV. The F30 will be reserved for long distance driving.

  • avatar
    TheDutchGun

    I have a focus ST right now. My plan is to find an accord 2.0t with a manual in a couple years and that will be my “drive it til it croaks” vehicle.

    If this occurs in 2021, I imagine the accord will no longer come stick by then, so I may have to source out a lightly used 2020 or 2019.

  • avatar
    427Cobra

    I can see both sides of the argument. I live in the mountains north of LA… driving a stick here can be tough… as well as in LA stop & go traffic. There are times I have NO desire to be driving a stick. There are other times when there’s nothing better… it’s just so much more engaging. I daily drive a 2017 Focus ST. My commute is only 3.5 miles, but with so much stop & go traffic, a stick can at times be tedious. For trips (and hauling the dog around), I have a 2016 Ram 2500 crew cab 4×4 with the 6.4L Hemi (automatic, naturally). It’s comfortable… and quiet… but you have to think ahead about where you’re going… can you PARK IT! and of course, there’s the mileage thang (or lack thereof). For those times I want to get my groove on, I break out in the ’04 Corvette Z06. Have to say… the shifter (and clutch) in the Focus ST is WORLDS better than the Vette. MGW, here I come!

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      So you’re a fan of manuals, especially when you don’t have to shift them much? You look forward to stick shifting mountain roads and heavy traffic, when you’re a fan.

      For some cars/sedans/compacts, it’s the only way I can stand the misery.

  • avatar
    ToddAtlasF1

    We’re at the stage now where the people who want manuals really want them and will pay for them. The reason they’re going away is down to how fuel economy is calculated by the EPA. It seems like anyone who doesn’t understand that by now can’t understand much of anything. They just take things on faith.

  • avatar
    MoparRocker74

    Manuals vanishing on low end crap can commuter boxes is no big loss. The take rate is still pretty solid where it actually counts which is on the Challenger/Mustang/Camaro and I believe Wranglers still have a healthy number, otherwise the Gladiator would’ve went auto-only, and the upcoming Bronco wouldn’t consider it.

    Also consider that American Powertrain just brought out a manual conversion for the GMT400 trucks. That’s HUGE news, and realistically manuals will never fully disappear. To live the dream, it’s going to take giving brand new cars the finger and building your own. As electric garbage is forced on us that may well be the ultimate pushback.

  • avatar
    ryanwm80

    Have you driven a Ford (Mustang) lately?

  • avatar
    toplessFC3Sman

    Its sad. The reasons are clear enough; automatic transmissions are better in any measurable way, while most vehicles are considered appliances with as little input as possible, fewer and fewer people know how to drive a manual, and the cost to certify manual transmissions is as high as ever, let alone the added engineering and manufacturing complexity of two transmissions… the writing is very clearly on the wall, but it’s still sad.

    I’m a millennial (barely) with hopefully a full car-buying life ahead of me, and there is very little out there that fits my wants or needs, and a manual transmission is very much one of those. I work for GM and can get the employee discount on their cars, and make enough to afford one if it really spoke to me, but nothing does. Oh well, I guess I’ll just be keeping my current fleet on the road as long as possible – ’09 Saab 9-3 wagon, 2.0T manual, ’09 Mazda RX-8 base manual, and ’88 Mazda RX-7 Turbo Convertible manual, the project car. All past cars, including the minivan, were manual too. A manual transmission is basically a non-negotiable part of any future purchase unless the powertrain configuration is such that it fundamentally isn’t possible, such as something like a Volt or Prius

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I just bought my neighbor’s low mileage Lacrosse and I plan on not buying another vehicles for 10 years and by then it might be an EV. I miss my last manual transmission vehicle but I will adapt.

  • avatar
    Spartan

    I’m 35 and I’ve purchased 3 manual transmission cars. Two of them I purchased new. My daily is a manual trans GTI I purchased new.

    I would blame the internet mag racers for not putting their money where their mouths are, but even those guys in force wouldn’t have stopped the inevitable. Granted, some of it is their fault. There’s my shameless shank at some of those guys.

    Anyway, enjoy them while they last. They’ll be gone in a generation or two, maybe three if the faithful are resistant and continue to buy cars like Mustangs, Challengers, and GTIs with the stick.


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