There are lots of great statistics at the Government CAFE web site.
Lots of compiled data on cars going back to 1977 (and some even
older.) One interesting trend tracked is the percentage of
automobiles with automatic transmissions.
In 1977, 84.1% of all new cars had AT. Under pressure of demands for
improved fuel economy and increasing consumer preference for import
cars, that number dropped to 75.0% in 1987. Then imports went
upscale, ATs became more sophisticated and fuel got cheap. By 2002,
88.5% of new cars had only two pedals and the imminent demise of the
manual transmission was widely predicted.
Then something funny happened. There were rumors of rebellion in the
ranks and increased reports of drivers demanding control of the gear
ratios. In 2003, the percentage of cars sold with automatics dropped
precipitously to 82.4%. The CAFE site is now reporting a further drop
in 2004 with the lowest percentage of AT's since 1991, 79.6%. That
means that the number of cars sold with manual transmissions increased
77% in only two years and a clutch is now found in one of every five
In terms of sales, this trend actually surpasses the much touted
return of rear wheel drive and the movement is broad based. While
keeping in mind that the politics of fuel economy can skew the
definitions pretty badly, the trend is apparent in domestics, Asian
and European imports. All are selling manual transmissions at levels
that haven't been seen in a decade. Almost half of all European cars
are now shifters, the highest rate since 1988.
Will this be a long lasting trend or a brief flash? It is still too
early to tell but it certainly shows that the old MT is going to be
harder to kill than it once appeared. The auto companies have now
learned that there is a solid base of buyers who prefer to shift for
themselves and the increased availability of this option is sure to