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Manual Gearbox Sees Uptick in Popularity, According to New Study

Manual shifter in the 2023 Honda Civic Type R | Photo: Honda
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Daniel Rufiange
The growth is being driven by buyers in their 20s

Many have been predicting its demise for years now, and it's true that it's not anywhere near as popular as it once was. However, it's wrong to say that the manual gearbox is dead. In fact, its popularity has ticked up over the past year. 

At least that's what shows a recent study by WardsAuto, based on data compiled by J.D. Power. That data reveals that the manual gearbox has been the choice of 1.7 percent of new-car buyers since the beginning of the year in the United States. In 2022, that percentage was 1.2 percent; in 2021 it was just 0.9 percent. 

You could argue that the numbers had fallen so low, the only way to go was up. But that’s no true - the fall could have continued, too. 

Manual shifter in the 2022 Chevrolet Camaro SS
Manual shifter in the 2022 Chevrolet Camaro SS | Photo: D.Rufiange

The current numbers are, let’s be clear, nowhere near those of the 1980s, when around 25 percent of new vehicles came with three pedals.  

Interestingly, the rise in popularity is also apparent in the used-vehicle market. The CarMax Group, which has sold just over 807,000 used vehicles so far in 2023, confirmed that the percentage of manual-transmission vehicles sold rose from 2.4 percent in 2020 to 2.9 percent in 2022. What’s more, that increase is most apparent among cars buyers in their 20s, those assumed to be the least interested in the format. 

“Customers have expressed interest in manual transmission vehicles due to a variety of factors, including nostalgia and throwback culture,” Mark Collier, CarMax's regional VP and GM, told WardsAuto.

“We’ve also heard from parents, who are car-shopping for their teens, that they find stick shifts appealing because they require the use of both hands, which may serve as a deterrent for texting while driving,” he added.

Another factor not mentioned in the study is the cost of insurance. Rates for certain vehicles with a manual gearbox can be lower, simply because they’re less likely to be stolen. 

According to the study, CarMax's top-selling used cars with stick a shift are the Honda Civic, Ford Mustang, Subaru WRX, Jeep Wrangler, Chevrolet Camaro, Ford Focus and Dodge Challenger.

Imagine if the option of a manual gearbox was offered with more new vehicle models. No doubt the percentages would be higher, as evidenced by the higher results on the pre-owned market.

Daniel Rufiange
Daniel Rufiange
Automotive expert
  • Over 17 years' experience as an automotive journalist
  • More than 75 test drives in the past year
  • Participation in over 250 new vehicle launches in the presence of the brand's technical specialists