In your driving career there are many milestones you will always remember: when you first get your drivers license; when you first drive on an interstate; your first road trip; your first flat tire; the first time you run out of gas.; when you buy your first car; the first time you, umm, utilize the back seat. And, for generations of drivers one of the biggest milestones was learning how to drive a stick shift — the mastery of the manual transmission.
When you learned to drive a stick shift, it was like becoming a real adult. It was a skill to be proud of, like speaking a foreign language. James Bond drove a stick. Burt Reynolds drove a stick. Race car drivers and Steve McQueen drove stick-shift cars. It was a badge of honor. You looked down on people who couldn’t drive a stick.
I learned to drive a stick in a 1988 Ford Festiva. It was my friend’s father’s car, and since I was always the designated driver I was forced to learn on the fly. It was ugly at first. There was a lot of stalling and a lot of bucking, but once I got the hang of it, it was like a rite of passage. I could drive a stick. I was in the club.
Sadly the days of manual transmission are quickly slipping away. According to US News & World Report only five percent of vehicles being sold in the United States have a manual transmission. Five percent. Stick shifts have become the Gary Johnson of the automotive world. In the 1980s, 25 percent of cars and 30 percent of trucks had manual transmissions.
Why the decline? There are many reasons. At the height of the stick shift era drivers chose manual transmission because of lower car cost, better fuel efficiency, better durability, and for many people a much more enjoyable driving experience. Anyone that has driven a stick can tell you, on an open highway or a winding road, popping that clutch is a great feeling.
Technology is quickly eliminating those past benefits. Cars with automatic transmissions are now as fuel efficient as manual vehicles thanks to smoother shifting and better highway mileage. New cars with manual transmission do not always cost less than their automatic cousins and data shows that when comes to selling your vehicle, you can expect $2000 less for your automobile with a stick shift than if it was an automatic.
Here in Atlanta the biggest reason for the decline in manual transmissions might be our infamous traffic. When you are stuck in bumper-to-bumper delays heading to and from work, it can get very tiresome having to constantly put you car into gear every 30 seconds.
I personally own two vehicles, one is a manual and one is an automatic. While I enjoy driving the stick much more than automatic, if I know I will be dealing with traffic I always take choose the automatic. Always. It is simply easier and less taxing.
With more and more people choosing automatic transmissions, car companies are making fewer and fewer stick shifts. It is simply a matter of time before they will gone from most main stream manufacturers becoming only a niche corner of the market for true enthusiasts.