The manual transmission is still a principal player on the global stage, where it finds a role in roughly half the vehicles sold.
But here in the United States, the stick shift has to settle for bit parts. It now figures in only 5 percent of this country's car and truck sales, most of them performance-minded machines and small, inexpensive econocars. "Manuals have gone from 20 percent of sales to 5 percent in the last 15 to 20 years," observed Mark Champine, who is in charge of drivetrain development at Chrysler.
Indeed, the vehicles most people buy, like crossovers, midsize family sedans and pickups, are seldom offered with manual transmissions. And several times a year, it seems, I learn that yet another redesigned model will no longer be available with a stick. (The most recent casualties: the 2015 Subaru Legacy sedan and Outback crossover.)
Basically, it has all been downhill for the once-dominant manual gearbox since the mid-20th century, with a rather dramatic dip in the new millennium. A major impetus for the manual's decline, of course, is American driving tastes.
"Americans, with their cellphones and cups, don't want to be bothered with shifting," said Mark Gunderson, leader of a GM transmission engineering team. The cupholder, he suggested, is symbolic of the American motorist's propensity "to do things other than drive."
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