If you look at the global car market, and the American car market some very distinct differences arise. America one of the largest consumer markets in the world. We buy more things than any other country on the planet per household. The car industry reflects this. America bought more cars than every country except China. Over six million cars were sold just in 2016 in the United States, and sales have been rising in the past few years. With this new buying trend, another trend is appearing, people aren’t buying manual cars anymore, Especially in America.

For more than half a century there was nothing but stick shift, the automatic transmission hadn’t been invented yet. Still through the seventies and eighties the majority of people drove stick shift and virtually everyone knew how to. Nowadays only around three percent of new cars sold in the US even have a manual transmission option. Driving schools do not provide lessons on driving a manual and many people do not know how to drive a car equipped with a manual transmission. However in other countries especially in Europe the stick shift is still alive and well. Less than twenty percent of all cars sold in Europe and Asia have automatic transmissions. This difference can be explained through many things.

These choices in cars are an extension of the cultures that are buying them. In America the first priority is comfort and convenience. Americans want to buy the biggest car, that can carry the most stuff and feels the most like their living room more than a mode of transportation. The automatic transmission is just an extension of this, everything in the normal Chevy Tahoe or any car like it is automatic, the seats, the climate control, the lights. Americans are a particularly lazy species. Ever since the automatic transmission has come into existence and become more and more affordable the more and more people want to buy it because it is easier to drive, takes less focus, and leaves more room to fit your giant cup of coffee in the middle console. The same cannot be said for other markets. The first priority to buyers in the global market is fuel economy, fuel has always been very expensive in Europe and Asia. When buying a car in Europe it has always been the goal to buy the smallest car you can live with, to save on fuel and the choice of transmission is no different. Historically manual transmissions get much better gas mileage because they are lighter and typically have more gears. This is why you see more stick shifts in other parts of the world, this is also why you say way less SUV’s and more sedans and station wagons in other parts of the world.

Just within the last decade there have been many advances to the automatic transmission and in many ways it is better than the manual now, including gas mileage. However Europe has not realized this yet or they just don’t care and the market is still dominated by stick shifts. Americans have forgotten the value of actually driving and most people only see cars as strictly mean of transportation. With this in mind it makes sense that Americans don’t want a manual it is just more effort.

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CC BY-SA 4.0 Why Does America Hate the Stick Shift? by Nathan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

2 Comments
  1. Fabian 3 months ago

    Nathan,
    I am interested in your post because in this generation, I have noticed that not a lot of people nowadays know how to drive a manual transmission car and I learned on a stick shift car when I was learning how to drive. Cars this year are mostly automatic and I really agree with that people are not willing to drive stick shift because they are too lazy to shift gears and they want to text and drive. One thing that you said that stands out for me is “Ever since the automatic transmission has come into existence and become more and more affordable the more and more people want to buy it because it is easier to drive, takes less focus, and leaves more room to fit your giant cup of coffee in the middle console.” I think this is interesting because I know a lot of people that do not know how to drive a stick shift and most prefer to not be shifting gears when driving and want to make it easy. Me personally, I love to drive stick shift because it is cool shifting gears and it makes me a better driver. Automatic is too easy and sometimes I like to challenge myself and driving a manual keeps me more focused when driving.

  2. Thomas 3 months ago

    Nathan,
    I found this particularly interesting because I have often wondered the same thing myself, and I always take note of whenever I see someone driving a manual. I personally don’t know how to drive a stick shift, but I know many people who do. You might find this article helpful: https://cars.usnews.com/cars-trucks/best-cars-blog/2016/09/why-are-manual-transmissions-disappearing. In my opinion, in addition to your reasons above, most drivers today are distracted enough already with their cell phones, there’s no way they could actually drive a manual and properly pay attention, so the stick shift will continue to decline.

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