The trouble with buying a manual car in North America


A lost art?
(Yes this is a Volvo)
Many people all around the world ask Americans, why don’t manual cars sell? Most people just snicker and say it's because their lazy. While partially true there are many other reasons why automatic sells in the U.S.

1. Fuel prices One of the biggest reasons manual cars sell so well in Europe is due to high fuel prices. When automatics first came out they had less gears and weren’t very good at keeping the engine in it’s sweet spot as a result. This meant they burned a lot more fuel which kept Europeans from buying them up. In America gas was cheap. Americans didn't mind paying more for driving an automatic and it meant you could get away from having to shift your own gears (Yes laziness is a factor). Fuel never got really expensive in America which is why nothing has changed.

2. Availability of manual cars These days people choose manual as a preference for the way they drive, not by fuel prices. The problem with buying a manual car in the U.S. is that after so many decades of people choosing automatic they have become nearly extinct. There are few manufacturers who have them, and dealers don’t like stocking them because people go for automatic. This makes it difficult for people who want a manual because if they want one it’s hard to find and when found features in the car can be scarce. Most companies only offer manuals on cars in their lowest trim level so once you want some leather seats, maybe a sun roof you’re stuck with an automatic which 9 times out or 10 giving up features to shift isn't worth it. For example if you want a manual Hyundai you generally have to choose the base car otherwise it’s auto only. This is the same with Lexus, Toyota, Ford, GM etc. 


BMW has one of the few great manuals left.
(Picture from WrenDaWise of his BMW M3)
3. The quality of the transmission The quality of manual transmissions generally isn't great in most cars. I blame this on manuals only going in cheap cars and the high preference of automatic. By quality I mean clutch feel, shifter feel and how the car handles throttle input. It does make sense though if people aren't going to buy large quantities of standard cars why would they put all the focus on creating a great manual? There are only a few automakers that create truly good manual transmissions those being BMW, VW, Audi and maybe a couple more. Most cheap cars have a lackluster manual making them undesirable. Therefore even less will choose it. This leaves more expensive cars to give a better experience and lets face it not everyone can afford a performance car.

4. Dealing with traffic Traffic is another big one. I understand that people drive manuals in traffic all the time but if you’re buying it for driving enjoyment and live in the city or commute on a congested highway it’s not a whole lot of fun to clutch in and out constantly. Driving manual in traffic is a bit tedious and boring. 

5. Many can't drive a standard It's no secret, most people today wouldn't have a clue what to do if they got in a standard car. This is unlike europe where they limit you to an auto only license if you take the test in an automatic car. Here you just take the test in any transmission and you can drive whatever you like. Most people take the test in automatic and will only ever drive an automatic. These people generally don't care for driving nor do they like cars therefore there is no desire to ever learn. This is probably the biggest reason why they don't sell. Most people aren't driving enthusiasts therefore they buy what gets them to point B. 


6. Improvements in technology conventional automatics are now able to surpass manuals in regards to fuel economy. This means when choosing a manual you're fuel mileage can drop. Not only that but you may have heard of a new type of transmission, a double clutch automated manual. These type of tranny's started off on the track allowing for faster shifts. On the road they allow quicker shifts and better fuel economy. VW is one company that's big on this setup and has steered some potential manual buyers away due to benefits. 


All these details contribute to less manual cars on the road and sadly that number will only decline. Enthusiasts will just have to stick with companies like BMW and hope they keep making great manual cars. 


Another thing I have discovered with social media sites is that people who can't drive a standard car right now feel as if it's big hurdle to get over. You can learn how to drive standard in a half hour. All you need to do is get a feel of the clutch, know the friction point and how to smoothly change gears. 


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