Automatics for the people: less than a third of new cars can be ordered with a manual gearbox

October 19, 2022 by

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carwow analysis finds manual gearboxes disappearing from manufacturer brochures; driving tests and new-car sales following suit

 

  • Just 98 of the 298 new cars on sale today are available with a manual
  • 62.4% of new cars sold in 2021 were automatics, up from 24% in 2011
  • Driving-test candidates taking tests in autos trebles in a decade

Less than a third of the new cars currently on sale are available with manual gearboxes, an exclusive investigation by carwow has found, a trend echoed by new-car sales figures and driving-test data.

Of the 298* new models available to order in the UK, 200, or 67.11%, are only available with automatic transmissions, leaving just 98 cars (32.89%) for drivers who want to change gear themselves.

A number of car makers offer only automatic gearboxes across their ranges, with no models from Mercedes, Genesis, Ferrari, Jaguar, Lexus, Maserati, Rolls-Royce, Subaru and Volvo being available with manual transmissions. Just two car makers – Abarth and SEAT – offer manual gearboxes with all the cars they sell.

The scarcity of manual gearboxes in car makers’ ranges is echoed in new-car sales figures. Data shared with carwow by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) shows just 24% of new cars sold in 2011 were ordered with an automatic gearbox, a figure that had risen to 62.4% by 2021.

All electric cars come with an automatic gearbox, hastening the demise of the manual

Learner drivers are also far more likely than ever before to take their driving test in a car with an automatic gearbox. The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency told carwow that just 5.2% of candidates took their test in an automatic in financial year 2010/11, a proportion that had more than trebled by 2021/22, when 15.78% of driving tests were conducted in automatic cars.

Given sales and manufacturer trends, the fact that drivers who pass their tests in automatics are unable to drive manual cars looks to be less of an inconvenience than it once was.

  Automatic Vs manual sales       Automatic Vs manual driving tests

Year

Automatic

Manual

2021

62.4%

37.7%

2020

56.2%

43.9%

2019

49.1%

50.9%

2018

43.2%

56.9%

2017

40.0%

60.0%

…2011

24%

76%

Source: SMMT

Financial year

Auto driving tests

2021/22

15.78%

2020/21

13.81%

2019/20

12.66%

2018/19

11.12%

2017/18…

9.53%

2010/11

5.2%

Source: DVSA

Why are manual gearboxes dying out?

The demise of the manual gearbox can be attributed to several factors. First, it is intrinsically linked to the growing popularity of electric cars, which are never available with manual gearboxes. The same is true of hybrid cars, with one or two past exceptions.

Second, modern safety systems are often easier to integrate into cars with automatic gearboxes. Autonomous emergency braking, for example, can apply a car’s brakes if sensors detect an obstacle for which the driver has not taken evasive action. In a car with a manual gearbox, AEB can cause the engine to stall if the driver doesn’t depress the clutch, something that does not happen in a car with an automatic transmission.

Forget interesting open linkages as seen in the Lotus Elise Cup 250 – in the future enthusiasts will be lucky to find any kind of manual transmission

And while automatic gearboxes tended historically to be significantly less fuel efficient than their manual counterparts, technological and engineering advancements mean today’s auto transmissions have efficiency figures that are more comparable to manuals.

Automatic gearboxes have also become far more rewarding to use over time. Whereas once drivers might have found a lethargic auto with just four speeds and a reluctance to change down when overtaking, today’s autos often come with seven, eight, nine or even ten speeds, can change down almost instantaneously and often feature steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters that allow drivers to decide for themselves which gear the car should be in.

Additionally, autos tend to offer a packaging advantage over manual transmissions: with no need for a mechanical gear-lever, automatic gearboxes can be controlled by a dial, buttons, or some other space-saving control, leaving more room for cubby space where once a shifter would have sat.

*Audit of cars available on manufacturers’ online configurators conducted in September 2022; vehicle derivatives (EG estates) were assessed, but not counted as individual models