Driving a manual transmission seems to be an emotionally-charged experience for people. They appreciate the control and nostalgia of a stick-shift, even if it makes driving a bit more challenging.
My only emotional connection to manuals is a slight feeling of self-consciousness when someone is shocked to learn that I’ve never driven a stick-shift before (a professional in the automotive industry, no less! The horror!). That, or amusement as I watch from the passenger side while my friend’s car stalls out, two minutes after he was bragging about how driving one “just takes practice.”
In fact, it’s entirely possible that you balked at the title of this story, thinking that I have a lot of nerve to dismiss manual transmissions as a thing of the past. I’m sure that there are auto enthusiasts who disagree with my point of view.
But the fact is, I’ve never lived in a world where manual transmissions are the only option (or even the popular option), and I’ll likely never live in a world where they will be. The world of automotive is moving in a different direction: one that gives drivers less control of their vehicles, not more.
As electric vehicle usage increases and autonomy comes into play, drivers simply won’t need the same amount of control over their vehicles that they may be accustomed to. Even now, popular car features like back-up cameras and blind-spot detectors mean that drivers don’t have to depend fully on their own driving skills anymore, and indicate an exciting fact that defines the new driving landscape: cars are becoming intelligent enough to do the driving for us.
Of course, I still have a tremendous amount of respect for the people who drive manuals. What’s more, automakers continue to cater to these individuals by still producing some vehicles with manual gearboxes. But even the most die-hard stick-shift fan must concede that driving a manual transmission isn’t a strictly necessary skillset anymore, no matter how enjoyable some people may find it.
Manual transmission skills became less critical as automatic transmissions took over the market, and will continue to decline in popularity with the rise of EVs. As market share and demand of electric vehicles (which don’t have multi-gear transmissions) increases, car buyers and drivers will have to shift their habits to accommodate this increasingly popular style of vehicle. For the same reason, even the the automatic transmission’s days may be numbered.
Skeptical? Here are some stats to back it up.
- In 2018, stick shifts represented only 3.5% of U.S. vehicle sales.
- That number is projected to drop even more: in 2023, only 2.6% of vehicle sales in the U.S. will be from manuals. (Source: IHS Markit)
All of this leads me to believe that my lack of manual-driving skills isn’t detrimental. While I could certainly still learn to drive a stick-shift, my energy is already well spent learning as much as I can about electric vehicles, alternative fuel, and autonomous cars. My current abilities may not allow me to drive most classic cars, but they do empower me to drive the next generation of vehicles coming our way.