New figures show less than 3 percent of new cars sold in the United States have a stick shift.

The writing is on the wall for the stick shift. It has been for years but the situation, it seems, is more dire than anyone thought.

According to a survey by Edmunds.com, reported by the Los Angeles Times, just 27 percent of cars on sale in the United States right now are available with a manual transmission. That contrasts with 37 percent in 2011, and 47 percent in 2006.

Sales figures tell an even grimmer story, as just three percent of cars sold in the U.S. are specified with a stick. That’s down from seven percent in 2012 and 25 percent in 1992.

Ivan Drury, a senior analyst at Edmunds, said: “That number is never going back up. The trajectory is down, headed for zero.”

By contrast, as many as 80 percent of cars sold in some European and Asian markets have a manual gearbox.

Manual transmissions were once standard-fit on all but the most high-end of cars. But as automatics became cheaper and more robust, drivers appreciated the convenience. The technology has now reached the point where some autos actually return better gas mileage than their manual counterparts, pounding another nail into the stick shift's coffin.

Sticks are even vanishing from sports cars. Ferrari has long since switched to paddle-shift gearboxes, after demand for manuals fell to almost zero. And many supercars and hypercars are now so powerful that a manual transmission simple could not cope.

But Porsche is sticking with sticks, which are available on all sub-GT3 and Turbo 911 models, and all 718s. A majority of Mazda MX-5, Fiat 124 Spider, and Nissan 370Z buyers prefer to change gear themselves, as well.

There are some safety concerns about the prevalence of auto ‘boxes, which take a significant amount of effort out of driving. Campaigner Doug Herbert said: “The fact that you are required to pay more attention [with a manual] makes you a safer driver.”

It seems that message is not getting through to young drivers, the vast majority of whom are learning to drive in an automatic. The LA Times spoke to 21-year-old Georgia Vassilakis, who can drive a stick. She said: "For people my age, it's as if I know how to speak Latin."

There will always be demand for manual transmissions among enthusiasts - the sell-out success of the limited edition Porsche 911R proves as much. But it seems most drivers can no longer be bothered with the effort. 

Source: LA Times

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