Manual Transmission Update: No One's Going to Save This Situation

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
manual transmission update no ones going to save this situation

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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  • Jeff S Jeff S on Oct 19, 2019

    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.

  • Spartan Spartan on Oct 19, 2019

    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.

  • Spamvw My '02 Jetta Wagon is starting to look a little rough. Some of the plastics are degrading, rust is starting. BUT, show me another 21 year old daily driver that looks perfect.
  • Syke Sorry, off-roading holds no interest for me. Besides, vehicles like these will normally get used in traffic where they can push around two-wheeled (motorized and not) vehicles with impunity.
  • V16 It's hard to believe that the 1980 Thunderbird was approved for production.The Edsel had more curb appeal.
  • Jimbo1126 (Turning pencil to eraser end...) Really, it's just GM. Been disappointed by their products too many times.
  • Golden2husky 78 Concept is pretty awesome to me -