Is The Stick Shift Making a Comeback, or Is It Just For a Niche Market?

Close-up on the stick shift manual transmission on the Ford Mustang Shelby GT350R
Close-up on the stick shift manual transmission on the Ford Mustang Shelby GT350R

At one point in time, every car on the market came with a stick shift. Following advancements in engineering and driving technology, by 2023, approximately 1.7% of all new cars were equipped with a manual transmission. However, according to a report by CarMax, there has been an uptick in sales for cars with a stick shift in the last few years.

In the report, sales for stick shift cars at CarMax had fallen to 2.4% in 2020. Then in 2021, those sales had seen a slight increase to 2.8%, and then rose again to 2.9% in 2022. So one must ask the question, what is causing a gradual rise in demand for manual transmission cars? In addition, what kinds of vehicles are these customers buying?

The Rise of The Automatic Transmission

In 1921, Alfred Horner Munro invented the first automatic transmission. It featured four forward gears, but no gears for parking or reverse, and he used air pressure instead of hydraulic fluid to operate it. At the time, it lacked the necessary power and was never commercially sold.

It was not until the 1930s that General Motors produced the first working automatic transmission with hydraulic fluid. In 1940, the company introduced it as the “Hydra-Matic”, and the first car to come equipped with it was the 1948 Oldsmobile.

Over time, the automatic gradually became more and more popular among consumers who did not want to have to deal with physically changing the gears of their car all the time. Today, nearly 99% of all new cars that are produced today are equipped with an automatic transmission, with stick shift cars being priced slightly less.

Who Is Buying Stick Shift Cars?

The heart of the Mustang Dark Horse interior is its all-new anodized blue, lightweight titanium manual shift knob. Preproduction computer-generated images shown.

There is a running joke that a car with manual transmission is the ultimate anti-car theft device against millennials, with approximately 18% of Americans claiming to know how to drive stick. However, it seems that the generation on the receiving end of this joke are also the same ones keeping the stick shift alive.

Based on CarMax consumer data, customers who were more attracted to vehicles with a stick shift were generally younger males (mostly millennials) between the ages of 27 and 42. It is reported that more members of this generation are purposefully seeking out cars with manual transmission due to their availability at dealerships, being slightly more affordable, and more fuel-efficient than automatic vehicles.

Whether the stick shift will reach the same popularity as cars with automatic transmission seems unlikely, but it doesn’t seem like they will be disappearing anytime soon.

Most Popular Manual Cars

Sedans, Coupes, and Sports cars are the most popular vehicles with a manual transmission that customers will go for, making up approximately 85% of all stick shift sales. Muscle cars like the Ford Mustang, Dodge Challenger, and Chevrolet Camaro are among the top choices for customers.

10 Most Popular Manual Cars

  1. Honda Civic
  2. Ford Mustang
  3. Subaru WRX
  4. Jeep Wrangler
  5. Chevrolet Camaro
  6. Ford Focus
  7. Volkswagen Jetta
  8. Dodge Challenger
  9. Mazda MX-5 Miata
  10. Mazda MAZDA3

Stick Shift Popularity by State

Most Popular

  1. New Mexico
  2. Oregon
  3. Washington
  4. New York
  5. Connecticut

Least Popular

  1. Illinois
  2. Louisiana
  3. Mississippi
  4. Wisconsin
  5. Georgia

Read More from PowerNation