In recent years, there’s been a surprising number of enthusiast’s cars that have been replaced without the option of a manual gearbox. The Porsche 911 GT3, Aston Martin’s V12 Vantage, and the Renault Clio RS 200 Turbo are just a few. This has proven that we’re finally seeing manual gearboxes or “stick shifts” being phased out in the UK. Or are we?…
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Despite the hype surrounding the imminent death of the manual transmission, and the subsequent rise of “flappy-paddle” gearboxes, the overwhelming majority of cars sold over the past three years have been manual models. This is contrary to a trend in the US and Canada, where manual gearboxes have been being phased out of the market for decades. However, it’s estimated only a quarter of cars on the UK’s roads are automatics, and not all of those have flappy paddles or full-blown dual clutch transmissions.
If you look at sales figures stretching back from the noughties, you’ll see that the popularity of manual gearboxes has certainly seen a decline. However, this has been on a steady curve with no noticeable drops. From 2004 to 2014, automatic gearboxes rose by a meagre 7.6 percent, despite some auto manufacturer’s fears of a total overhaul.
Despite the Brits’ affinity with manual cars, the whole auto industry’s shift towards automatic models is still noticeable, and isn’t expected to turn around for the foreseeable future. High-end companies like Jaguar and Ferrari seemed to have discovered years ago that building a lot of prestigious sports cars with manual transmission is pointless, as their main customer base simply isn’t interested in buying them anymore. However, this is only one side to the story. The steadily climbing popularity of flappy-paddle transmission on more humble models, such as recent versions of the Vauxhall Corsa, which can be bought with a dual-clutch option, are more indicative of the way the international auto market is going.
This trend poses some pretty interesting questions for car-nuts. First of all, what happens when a new driver learns at a driving school focussing on automatics, and then can only afford a second-hand car with a manual gearbox? Would they be allowed to leave the lot in a manual car, having learned in a dual-clutch Corsa?
The other big mystery around the shift we’re seeing is a question of economics. Why is it that dual-clutch models in particular, traditionally heavier than the manual equivalent and much more expensive to produce for manufacturers, have become the model of choice for many large car companies? This trend has been particularly noticeable in high-performance enthusiast’s cars. Aston Martin, Porsche, Mercedes and Ferrari have all shown a considerable shift towards dual clutch models. Although this engineering can keep up with increasing demands for power and torque, many in the industry say it’s mainly down to enthusiast’s falling demand for manual performance cars.
While there are some drivers who will hold fast to manual gearboxes forever, there’s definitely a shift towards automatics occurring in the UK. It will certainly be interesting to see how this trend shapes the future of the industry.