Sales of manual transmission vehicles have experienced a modest increase in recent years. In 2023 they accounted for 1.7 percent of all new car sales, up from less than one percent in 2021. While not a booming renaissance, the resurgence highlights a shift in consumer behavior.
According to J.D. Power, manual transmission car sales reached a low of 0.9 percent in 2021 before rebounding in 2022 and again in 2023. CarMax, the largest used car chain in the US, reports a similar increase. After a low of 2.4 percent in 2020, manual-equipped car sales increased to 2.8% in 2021 and 2.9% in 2022. Interestingly, the traditional justification of buying a manual for cost savings is no longer the primary motivation.
Ivan Drury, Director of Insights at Edmunds.com, attributes the resurgence to factors like nostalgia and a desire for a throwback experience. Drury, who owns a Mazda MX-5 with a manual, emphasizes that learning to drive a manual enhances the driving experience, giving people a sense of control over their vehicle.
While automakers don't produce an abundance of manual transmission vehicles, a small yet enthusiastic market remains for these offerings. Apart from the driving experience, unique reasons influence consumers to opt for manual transmissions. Mark Collier, Regional Vice President and General Manager at CarMax, notes that some parents view manual transmissions as a way to discourage texting while driving, as they require the use of both hands.
The current top-selling manual-transmission vehicles lean towards sportier models. Topping the list is the Honda Civic, followed by the Ford Mustang, Subaru WRX, and Jeep Wrangler. At Volkswagen dealerships like Street VW in Amarillo, Texas, manual-equipped Jettas and Golf Rs sell within a day or two due to high demand.
However, the trend is not limited to the most performance-oriented vehicles. Michael Glassman of Glassman Auto Group in Southfield, MI, shared that his store received 46 Kia Fortes with stick shifts, selling a remarkable 44 of them in short order.
As the automotive landscape continues to evolve, the resurgence of manual transmissions offers a glimpse into changing consumer preferences and the enduring appeal of an engaging driving experience. Some car manufacturers like Toyota have recently added or retained manual transmissions for popular vehicles, including the Supra and the 2024 Tacoma.