Manual transmissions seem to be experiencing a slight resurgence in popularity among car enthusiasts and even a younger generation of drivers. According to data gathered by J.D. Power and reported in the industry trade journal WardsAuto, the take rate for manual transmissions in new cars has shown a gradual increase. As of 2023, manual transmission vehicles account for 1.7% of all new-car sales in the United States. This represents a modest yet noteworthy uptick from 2022 when only 1.2% of new cars sold came equipped with a manual gearbox, and even more so from 2021 when the figure stood at a mere 0.9%.
But it’s not just new cars that are experiencing this shift in demand. Used car giant CarMax, which moved a substantial 807,823 vehicles during the 2023 fiscal year, reported a similar trend. Sales of cars with manual transmissions at CarMax have risen from 2.4% in 2020 to 2.9% in 2022. What’s particularly intriguing is that this resurgence is being fueled, in part, by buyers in their 20s. The younger generation seems to be embracing manual transmissions, drawn by a mix of factors, including a sense of nostalgia and a desire to connect with a throwback car culture.
Mark Collier, a regional vice president and general manager at CarMax, attributes this phenomenon to the allure of manual transmissions. He suggests that for some buyers, the decision to opt for a stick shift isn’t just about the driving experience; it’s also about practicality. Some parents, for instance, see manual transmissions as a way to discourage their teenage children from texting while driving since operating a manual requires the use of both hands, making it more difficult to engage in distracting behaviors.
Despite the relatively low take rate, there remains a dedicated market for manual transmission vehicles. Automakers may not produce them in abundance, but they continue to cater to this niche audience. It’s worth noting that the top-selling manual-transmission vehicles lean towards sportier models, indicating that the enthusiasts who opt for manuals are often seeking a more engaging driving experience. The Honda Civic leads the pack, followed closely by the Ford Mustang, Subaru WRX, and Jeep Wrangler. Even at dealerships like Street VW in Amarillo, Texas, manual-equipped Jettas and Golf Rs are in such high demand that they sell within a day or two. Even the with new Toyota Supra now offering a manual transmission, about half of them are being sold with the manual transmission option. The recent increase in their popularity can be attributed to a combination of factors, including nostalgia, a desire for a more engaging driving experience, and practical considerations like reducing distracted driving, in addition to the looming threat of electric vehicles taking place of these prided vehicles. Whether it’s a sporty sedan or an off-road-ready SUV, the appeal of shifting gears manually seems to be enduring, albeit among a select group of enthusiasts and safety-conscious consumers.