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Americans have a growing crush on manual transmissions.To be sure, the share of new vehicles bought with stick shifts remains a small slice because most models don’t even offer them.
But through March this year, 6.5% of new vehicles sold were manual — close to double the rate in each of the past five years and highest since 7.2% in 2006, according to Edmunds.com.
That “take rate,” as the industry calls it, is even more impressive because just 19% of the 2,360 models on sale offer manuals, Edmunds.com reports. Five years ago, 29% of 2,391 on sale offered sticks, and the take rate was 2.9%, lowest in a decade.
And that’s even though manuals no longer are gas-mileage champs. In fact they often lag behind today’s computer-controlled automatics. Instead, the lures of a clutch pedal are:
– Price. Models with manuals typically are at least $1,000 cheaper than the automatic and are most common in the increasingly popular small, lower-price cars whose buyers tend to be very price-sensitive.
– Performance. Many people consider manuals more fun, even those who don’t see them as a way to wring the most pep from those low-power cars. “In these compact cars, it’s easier to get the most power from the manual,” says Ivan Drury, analyst at Edmunds.com.
– Habit. People driving sticks seem to be buying them again. The average trade-in now is 6.1 years old, says Edmunds.com, which happens to coincide with the last peak, 2006, in manual “take rate.”
– Ease of use. Clutch pedals now take less effort and engage more smoothly, making it less likely a driver will kill the engine or be jerky.
The trend surprised automakers. For instance, demand for manuals in the redone Ford Focus compact is close to 10%. “We were planning around 4%, 4.5%,” says Paul Russell, Focus marketing manager. In March, Ford even began offering one in the top Titanium trim, after initially thinking higher-income buyers wanted only automatics.
Dodge saw change coming ahead of this summer’s launch of its 2013 Dart compact. Marketing manager Richard Cox predicts up to 20% will sell with manuals, split among the price-conscious and those who believe a stick is the way to enjoy Dart’s European Alfa Romeo underpinnings.