Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Market Downshift To Automatics
I made a hasty remark in my previous post, to the effect that only blue collar men and rich old geezers are stick-shift drivers anymore. Within a couple hours I heard from several women who also prefer driving manuals, so the stick-shifting driver demographic may be broader than I'd assumed.
But I wondered: what percentage of cars in the United States have manual transmissions, regardless of the driver's gender, age, or income, and where could I find an authoritative source for that information? And immediately I realized: by asking the federal government, of course, since they know everything and put it all on the internet.
Sure enough, the EPA's data on light-duty vehicle trends (see the executive summary excel tables) reports that in 2010 only 7 percent of our cars had stick-shifts, compared to 13 percent in 1998 and 29 percent in 1987. So, our stick-shift cars are slowing becoming a niche market for driving enthusiasts.
Not so in Europe. I've seen news media reports that as many as 85% of European cars are sold with manual transmissions. That accords with my own observations while traveling abroad, however, I haven't found an official source on the subject. For some strange reason, European governments don't seem to be so loquacious as ours.
Next I wondered: what American car brand sells the highest percentage of its cars with manual transmissions? (And I'm not including paddle shift transmissions or 'manualmatics' here; it has to have three foot peddles to count.) Is it Porsche, or BMW? Maybe Audi, or Volkswagen? Mazda?
It's none of those. I learned that Mini Cooper sells more of its cars with stick-shifts than any other maker in the U.S., as much as 50 percent. Mini has a whole ad campaign directed at that market segment. See this informational video on becoming a manual, for example.
I might wave to the next Mini driver I see while on my way to work tomorrow morning. We stick-shifters are a rare breed, and getting rarer.