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Car News

Manual Transmissions Regaining Popularity

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author photo by Jeffrey Archer
  • More buyers choosing manual over automatic.
  • Several automakers seeing increased stick shift sales.
  • Some brands adding manual back into lineups.

After years of declining popularity, the manual transmission is on the rise again. Several automakers are reporting an increase in stick shift popularity, and some are even adding the transmission back into their lineups due to increasing customer demand.

According to USA Today, manual-equipped cars accounted for 6.5 percent of all new car sales during the first quarter of 2012. That's nearly double the sales rate for manuals in 2011, and the highest figure since manuals accounted for 7.2 percent of car purchases in 2006.

The increased popularity is causing automakers to take note. While Ford hadn't planned to offer a stick shift in its upscale Focus Titanium model, customer demand dictated that the automaker change its mind. Now, Ford sells around ten percent of all Focus models with a manual transmission--a hefty increase compared to the automaker's planned four percent.

Kia also recently announced it would be offering its sporty Rio SX hatchback with a manual transmission after previously deciding it would only be available with an automatic. While Kia will only make 500 manual models for US buyers, the automaker made its decision to produce a 3-pedal Rio SX due to increasing customer demand.

"Our customers and the automotive press have been asking for the Rio 5-door SX with a manual transmission and we've listened," said Orth Hedrick, Kia's director of product planning. "As the Kia brand becomes more and more relevant to enthusiasts, we'll continue to evaluate consumer demand and consider bringing other high-spec manuals to the market."

Indeed, driving enthusiasts make up many of the buyers clamoring for more manual transmissions. In 2006, driving purists derided BMW's decision to make an automatic the sole transmission in its high-performance M5 sedan. The automaker eventually relented and added a manual option for 2007.

But it's not just enthusiasts interested in manuals. While the stick shift no longer offers the improved fuel economy over the automatic that it once did, many shoppers enjoy the thrill of shifting gears on their own. For other buyers, the cost savings associated with a manual win them over, as the transmission is usually around $1,000 less expensive than its automatic counterpart. Still more car owners prefer manual due to habit after years of driving stick shift cars.

Whatever the reason, it seems that while the manual transmission was once nearing extinction, it's now on its way back from the dead.

What it means to you: If you're interested in a brand new car with a stick shift, you're not alone--and your options are increasing.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.