As recently as 2015, electric cars were a rarity, commanding only 0.3 percent of the new-car market, while 1.9 percent of buyers chose manual transmissions. Now the role has reversed, with EVs on the rise and manuals stagnating or declining altogether, according to data from industry analyst J.D. Power. It may feel like an odd comparison, but it’s indicative of broad changes in buyers’ relationships with their cars, and manufacturers have responded—notably Chevrolet with the 2020 Corvette, which has no shift-your-own option; the only transmission option is an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic.
Tyson Jominy of the J.D. Power Data and Analytics Division told Car and Driver that its data comes from the third quarter of 2019 and excludes fleet sales “to focus on how true consumers are behaving in the U.S. market.” Noting that electric-vehicle sales have tripled in the past two years, while still definitely a very minor part of the marketplace, Jominy said the choice of a manual transmission has declined in 2019 almost as much as EVs have grown.
Smaller cars such as the Ford Fiesta and the Chevrolet Cruze once were purchased with manual transmissions “primarily as a lower cost of entry to a new vehicle,” Jominy notes. These and others like it are being discontinued, and as newer models—the Corvette is one example—are not being introduced with a manual, that leaves sportier or niche vehicles, or a few straggler entry-level cars, as the only ones offering a manual-transmission choice.
Despite that, there are still more manuals on the market than there are EVs: currently, 40 manuals to 16 EVs. There are also outliers such as the Porsche 911 Carrera S, which for 2020, offers a manual as a no-cost option. But the list of manuals, as Jominy suggested, is composed of mostly performance or economy cars, while the EVs list has cars that, despite their mass appeal, are still priced outside many people’s budgets.
What does this mean? Mainly that the marketplace is changing, and the auto-sales landscape will be very different even a few years from now. J.D. Power’s Jominy even suggests that manual-transmission fans “run to a dealership” while the option is still out there.