Audi kills manual-transmission cars America lost love for stick shift

After a range of technological advancements in recent years, automatic transmissions now come in various high-tech forms, such as dual-clutch versions that mimic a manual’s gear-changing function. Bottom line: They all do the work for you. No more fumbling with the clutch pedal to switch gears.

“Unfortunately,” Koons said in an email, “the customer demand for manuals is quite low.”

Sales of manual transmissions have been falling for decades – but their drop-off has accelerated in recent years.

Stick shifts represented 6.8 percent of U.S. vehicle sales in 2012, according to IHS Markit. But that figure has tumbled to an estimated 3.5 percent in 2018.

Take the Subaru BRZ. The popular sports car was once sold only with a manual transmission, but sales are now 90 percent automatic, Fiske estimated.

IHS projects that the percentage of cars sold with a manual transmission will fall to 2.6 percent in 2023. And Fiske said recent indicators may require IHS to update its forecast.

“We’re seeing it go even lower,” he said.

But not all hope is lost for stick-shift aficionados. For one thing, they’re still selling in many foreign markets. In fact, Fiske said the 5-speed manual is the most popular transmission in the world.

“They’re low-cost and easy to make,” he said.

And true believers aren’t giving up.

Darryl Hayden, a machine operator from Hampton, Virginia, was committed to buying a manual-transmission car a few years ago but the dealer had only one option on the lot – and it was bare bones. So he had the dealer search high and low for the 2014 Ford Focus he ended up buying.

“That was a very difficult thing” to find, he said. The car “was in South Carolina, and they drove it up to Virginia for me since they’re not making so many now.”

Hayden said he feels more connected to the road with a manual, which he said also helps him stay awake.

“You’ve got more control over the car because you’re shifting your own gears instead of waiting for the car to shift for you,” he said.

While Audi is ending manuals, many major auto brands still offer stick-shift options on certain vehicles. The top five best-selling manuals through July, according to IHS, were the Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra and Jeep Wrangler Unlimited.

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