There was a time when salespeople at Street Volkswagen had to know how to drive a vehicle with a manual transmission.
“It was part of their training,” says John Luciano, owner of the Amarillo, TX, dealership.
The thinking behind it was that it was easier to sell a stick-shift vehicle or demonstrate one if you knew how to operate it.
Such training is no longer required. That’s because most car buyers today opt for vehicles with automatic transmissions, which have vastly improved over the years.
Automakers have adjusted their production accordingly.
Yet stick shifts are making a mild comeback. Some industry observers even call it a “renaissance.” That might be pushing it. But after years of steady declines, manuals’ market share has bumped up.
J.D. Power reports they have accounted for 1.7% of total U.S. new-vehicle sales this year. That’s up from 1.2% in 2022 and a fractional 0.9% in 2021.
CarMax says its manual deliveries are up. After falling to 2.4% of the dealership chain’s sales in 2020, its sales of vehicles with stick shifts bumped up to 2.8% in 2021 and 2.9% in 2022.
Once, auto consumers on a budget saved money by buying vehicles with manual transmissions because they cost less than ones with automatics. Not anymore, CarMax reports, citing its pricing data.
“No one is buying a manual today to save money,” Ivan Drury, director-insights at automotive website Edmunds.com, tells Wards.
Who’s Buying Manuals
J.D. Power says 20-something car buyers are driving the slight resurgence of stick shifts. But there are other types of takers.
“Customers have expressed interest in manual transmission vehicles due to a variety of factors, including nostalgia and throwback culture,” Mark Collier, regional vice president and general manager at CarMax, tells Wards.
Most of the current top-selling manual-transmission vehicles lean toward sporty.
No.1 is the Honda Civic, followed by the Ford Mustang, Subaru WRX, Jeep Wrangler (appealing to some off-roaders), Chevrolet Camaro, Ford Focus, VW Jetta and Dodge Challenger.
Luciano says that at his VW dealership, Jettas and pocket-rocket Golf Rs with manuals don’t stay on the sales lot long. “They’re gone within a day. I sell all I can get.”
Then again, he doesn’t get that many. VW and other automakers don’t allocate scads of manual vehicles to their dealers. But there remains a small yet enthusiastic market for them.
Dealer Michael Glassman of Glassman Auto Group in Southfield, MI, tells Wards that in sort of a fluke his store ended up taking delivery of 46 Kia Fortes with stick shifts.
“We sold 44 of them pretty quickly,” he says.
“If you learn how to drive one, you know it is worthwhile,” says Drury, who owns a Mazda MX-5 Miata RF sports car with a manual. “They enhance the driving experience. People feel they are more in control of their vehicle.”
But there are other reasons – some of them offbeat – as to why certain consumers opt for stick shifting.
“We’ve also heard from parents, who are car-shopping for their teens, that they find stick shifts appealing because they require the use of both hands, which may serve as a deterrent for texting while driving,” CarMax’s Collier says.
Then there’s this from Luciano: “I’ve had parents say, ‘I’m getting a stick shift because I don’t want my kids driving my car.’”
Luciano, a 43-year veteran of auto retailing, says automakers have cut back on offering stick-shift vehicles partly because of the high number of warranty claims by consumers whose stick-shifting learning experience caused some vehicle damage in the process.
“They would kill the clutch by grinding the gears,” he says. “They’d come into the service department saying, ‘It’s not my fault.’ Well, it actually was.”