The rapid evolution of the automotive industry sees the blossoming of new technologies and the demise of many others. While the public is still waiting for the arrival of self-driving cars for the masses and electric vehicles need to improve in many aspects, other features that used to be a standard feature in cars a few years ago are fading away.

This is the case of the manual transmission. This automotive transmission system, which requires driver input to engage gears, is becoming a rarity in many markets, and not just in North America. It is becoming increasingly difficult to find cars with three pedals, especially in the upper segments.

Penetration of manual transmission H1 2023 - graphic

Data from JATO Dynamics shows that this type of transmission is losing popularity everywhere.

Free fall in Europe

A good example is what is happening in Europe. In 2000, almost all new passenger cars registered had a manual transmission. The percentage stood at 89%, with countries such as Italy, France, Spain, Greece, Hungary, Ireland and Portugal above 95%. Automatic gearboxes were slightly more popular in Norway (27%) and Switzerland (26%).

Evolution of light vehicle transmission in Europe - graphic

This percentage remained around 85%-90% for a few years, until different types of automatic transmissions started to arrive on the market. In 2017, 78% of new cars registered had a manual transmission. And since then, their market share has been falling steadily: 76% in 2018, 73% in 2019, 55% in 2020, 40% in 2021, 34% last year and an all-time low of 32% during the first half of this year.

The reason: drivers are more aware of the advantages, traffic jams are getting worse in many cities and, in general, there is a smaller price difference with manual transmissions. Added to this is the advent of electric cars that do not need multiple gears to match power curves, which means they can drive without a gearbox.

US has always preferred automatics

JATO data shows that in 2010, only 6% of new light vehicles sold (passenger cars and pick-up trucks) in the US moved with a manual transmission. This dropped to 4% in 2019, then 2% in 2020, and 1% in 2021 and 2022. This year, as of June, only 0.9% of units sold have this type of transmission.

Evolution of light vehicle transmission in USA, Canada - graphic

In fact, it was in the US that the first attempts to create an automatic transmission were made. Many American drivers do not even think of driving a car with a manual transmission.

Still an option in developing markets

On the other hand, the manual transmission is still a valid option in emerging economies. In markets such as Latin America and South Africa, these vehicles continue to account for more than 30% of sales.

Evolution of light vehicle transmission in China - graphic

Although the price gap has narrowed dramatically over the last 20 years, it remains an important consideration for lower income consumers. Will this change with the advent of cheap electric cars?

The author of this article, Felipe Munoz, is an automotive industry specialist at JATO Dynamics.