This is something you don’t see anymore: a) a person learning to drive a standard and b) apologizing to everyone else for it. But as Jim Motavalli notes,

In 1980, one in three new cars in America had a manual transmission. Today it’s fewer than one in 10. In the Porsche 911 — the 911! — the PDK automatic outsells the manual 4 to 1. Shocking, isn’t it? Do you know anybody who can handle a stick?

It seems that very few people in North America want to drive a stick shift. Italian/Canadian Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne told one fan of churning that the demand is too small to bother with.

“It’s going to be you and four guys. That’s my assessment of our market demand,” he said. “I’ll buy one too, but then it’s only going to be six.”

There used to be good reasons to stick with the stick. The gas mileage was a lot better; now it's actually better with an automatic transmission. According to Robert Karwell of J.D. Power, quoted in the Globe and Mail, the improvements in the automatic transmission “have made the manual increasingly obsolete.”

“The technology has gotten to the point where an automatic, CVT [continuously variable transmission] or DSG [direct-shift gearbox] is more economical than a manual,” he says. “It works more efficiently than a manual, and it’s the quickest way around a race track.”

The automatic transmission used to also be lot more expensive; it still costs more but the spread has shrunk and the availability of the manual transmission is much more limited, so there are fewer sitting on the lots and less room to comparison shop.

Even Ferrari and Lamborghini have dropped the manual transmission in favor of DSGs. If you want to go really fast, let the automatic handle it.

But if you want to have fun, you can’t beat the stick. As one commenter to the Globe and Mail article noted, “If you have never driven a manual shift transmission, you have never operated a vehicle and have no idea of synchronicity between man and machine.”

MiataPerhaps I should have washed off the paw prints before taking this photo. (Photo: Lloyd Alter)

I love few things more than throwing the top down and hopping in to our ’89 Miata and indeed, feeling one with the machine. My wife and my daughter feel the same way. It’s light, simple and basic and fun. It’s also not very safe, being light, simple and having no air bags and fancy brakes and computer systems.

You can still buy modern cars with sticks; the Miata still has it, as do performance versions of Fiestas and Mustangs. About 25 percent of Jeep Wranglers are still sold with manual transmissions and 90 percent of Subaru BRZ rockets are sold with sticks.

But for the great majority of cars used for everyday driving, the manual transmission is disappearing. Fewer and fewer people are bothering to even learn how to use them. According to the manager of a local driving school, quoted in the Globe and Mail:

What happens is, one generation is not passing that information on to the next. We’re training 16- to 25-year-olds who have never even been in a manual-transmission car. We’re actually at that point where they’ve never seen one. Their parents didn’t drive a stick shift; their grandparents did, but not the parents.

It’s kind of sad, they are missing something. On the other hand, as electric cars take over, transmissions of any kind will become a thing of the past. And we can all look forward to that.

Lloyd Alter ( @lloydalter ) writes about smart (and dumb) tech with a side of design and a dash of boomer angst.

Is the stick shift going extinct?
It was a fine romance, but automatics are getting better all the time.