How Gen Z Is Giving the Old-School Stick Shift a Second Life
The stick shift has been given a lifeline—and not from who you might be expecting.
After decades in decline, sales of vehicles with manual transmissions actually rose last year, reports The Wall Street Journal. It’s not automotive purists fueling the increase in demand, though—it’s young drivers.
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Last year, 1.7 percent of new vehicles sold in the US had manual gearboxes, according to data from J.D. Power. As small as that number may seem, it was a big improvement on the 1.2 percent sold the year before and the 0.9 percent sold in 2020, the lowest year on record. Additionally, the Journal reports Autotrader online marketplace saw a 13 percent increase in page views for new manual vehicles. These numbers aren’t huge by any stretch of the imagination, but they are going up.
Automakers seem to have taken note, too. Mini recently added three new models to its lineup of stick shifts and has four more on the way. Meanwhile, three of the five current Mazda MX-5 Miata models are only available with a manual, and the same goes for an upcoming high-performance variant of the reborn Acura Integra. And who’s buying these cars? Young (or at least younger-than-average) drivers. A quarter of the buyers who opted for a manual MX-5 Miata are between the ages of 18 and 35, while half of manual Integra owners are between 18 and 46.
This is happening at a time when the previous advantages of buying a manual—lower price, better gas mileage and faster acceleration—have all but disappeared, according to the paper. Instead, it would seem that many young drivers are embracing stick shifts as a way of resisting the trend toward automation from both EVs and cars with internal-combustion engines.
“It’s not a statement against electric cars so much as I’m going to try to enjoy the type of driving that’s the most fun to me until I can’t anymore,” Lucas Marcouiller, a 26-year-old who has owned three manuals now, told the Journal.
The auto industry’s embrace of electrification should be what kills off the manual transmission once and for all—most EVs have single-gear electric motors—but instead, the stick shift is showing more life than it has in years. In fact, automakers such as Toyota and custom shops such as Gateway Bronco are exploring how to utilize manual gearboxes in battery-powered vehicles. It shows that while the stick shift will never return to the prominence it once had, it, like vinyl records, will continue to have a place in the world for much longer than anyone could have foreseen.
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