Wither the Stick Shift

By Deane Barker on June 15, 2006

The decline of manual transmission cars: Interesting conversation at MetaFilter about the death of the manual transmission.

Do you know what to do with a stick and a clutch? Only 15% of new car buyers in the US say they’ll consider buying a car with manual transmission, and by 2012, only 6% of cars will be offered with a stick. Is it because it’s a difficult skill to learn? Or is it really because it’s too hard to shift when you have a cell phone in one hand and a Starbucks coffee in the other?

I always thought that stick shifts were more common in performance cars, but I don’t anymore. The fact is that the average buyer for a Porsche or a Ferrari is probably over 50, and is more interested in looking good and in ease of cruising than pure speed. That’s why the last (only) Ferrari I rode in had a clutchless paddle-shift system, and Porsche pioneered the “manumatic” transmission with its Tiptronic.

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Comments

  1. Great quote from the discussion on that page:

    “Manual gearboxes are the command lines of cars. They have their moments, but why the hell would 99% of the population care?”

    I prefer manuals for just about any situation. My current daily driver is an automatic, but only because I got an insanely good deal on it, and as I will be building (restoring) my next daily driver, it will definitely have a manual transmission. My other vehicle, a fairly well-modified Jeep Cherokee, is also stick shift and I much prefer that for romping around in the woods and crawling over rocks and stuff.

    To me, there’s more than just being able to decide which gear I want at a given time. I love the interaction you have with the vehicle with a clutch and a gearshift. Especially offroad, being able to modulate the clutch or start out in whatever gear I want is a huge benefit. I don’t want my car to coddle me or make driving ‘convenient’, and I don’t care if someone is 0.12 seconds faster through the quarter mile gate because all those 100 millisecond shifts add up. I’m all about the overall driving experience, and the moment I’m able to have a stick shift again, I’ll be extremely happy.

    Then again, I still use the command line as well.

  2. I can see driving an automatic if you’re in stop and go traffic on a regular basis, but I find the manual MUCH more entertaining to drive.

    Also, a manual is much better for highway driving as lifting your foot off the gas slows the car without braking. That means no brake lights to make cars behind you tap THEIR brakes, etc.

    Shifting makes you more aware of the speed of the car, the power of the engine and the effects of hills. I think everyone should LEARN to drive on an automatic to force them to be more aware of what’s going on. An SUV is big, quiet, heavy, and fast. It’s also a very easy car to drive, making it deadly for young drivers.

    As for sports cars, don’t confuse the Porsche and Ferrari auto-shifters with standard automatics. They tend to be 6 speeds and unlike regular automatics they allow engine braking, and shift faster than any human being which is why they were first developed for formula one racing.

    Being able to roll start your car when you leave the lights on isn’t to be sneezed at either.

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