Part way into the 21st Century, obsolescence isn’t what it used to be, especially in the minds of younger consumers; consider the renaissance of vinyl records and film cameras. To that list, add the automobile’s stick shift.
Manual transmissions are no longer just about lower car purchase prices, better fuel economy or more control on the road. They’re about being hip. At least, that’s part of the thesis offered in a recent article in The Wall Street Journal.
“The 20-Somethings Fueling a Stick-Shift Renaissance” examines a modest but real resurgence in the sales upticks of manual-equipped cars, and focuses on the enthusiasm of younger people to acquire them, and the challenges—no longer so challenging—of learning bow to drive them.
But, as readers of Autoblog have learned in recent years,, the future of manuals, as author Rachel Wolfe succinctly points out in the Journal piece, is essentially doomed in the longer term. Blame the electric vehicle.
She writes that car makers sold 43 different manual models in 2022, according to J.D. Power, compared with 69 in 2019. “While a few EVs do have more than one gear,” she says, “auto makers are still figuring out how to translate the experience of maneuvering a manual to their electric car lineups. ‘’
Did we mention “doomed”?
But Ms. Wolfe does offer some positivity.
“MINI just opened a manual driving school of its own at the BMW Performance Center in Thermal, Calif.,” she writes. “A January company survey of just over 1,000 drivers found that two-thirds of 18-to-34-year-olds are eager to learn how to drive a manual, versus 40% of older respondents who don’t already drive stick.”
The author quotes a couple of drivers who became enamored of manuals, including a teenager from Ohio who took his driving test with a manual. “I thought it was cool to learn how to drive on a stick, just because I could tell my friends that I was a better driver than them,” he says.
She also visits the other side of the issue, talking to a 24-year-old, who said that she found the stick “cool,” but only until “her leg grew sore from the clutch as she navigated traffic commuting back and forth from law school every day in Tampa, Fla. ‘I think they are very fun to drive for about two hours, and then you’re like, OK, I would like to put it away and just drive like a normal person again.’’”
The full article is available online here. Note that a paid subscription may be required to access some stories in The Wall Street Journal.