Why are Manuals Still More Popular than Automatics?
Although the sales of automatic cars are increasing here, it appears the average car-buyer in the UK still prefers a manual. Even though sales of automatics are increasing, that apparent growth in popularity is probably being driven more by the increased popularity of hybrid and electric vehicles that only come in automatic form, rather than the preference of consumers. Around 40% of new cars sold in the UK right now are automatic, which is a big increase from 24.7% in 2012, but that means a massive 60% are still manual.
I'm old enough to remember when automatics were a rarity on UK roads and in showrooms, but I've also seen how the technology of automatic transmissions has developed over the decades. I simply cannot understand why anyone would choose a manual over an automatic these days, even if it's a supercar costing six figures. I could, however, offer a few suggestions as to why UK car buyers still prefer manual.
Although new car adverts are almost exclusively focused on younger buyers these days, the fact is, this doesn’t reflect the average age of a new car buyer in the UK as it's currently 54. The average age of Ford buyers is 56, while the average Toyota buyer is 63.
Why does the age of the buyer influence the gearbox they prefer, you may ask? Although I'm still (just) younger than that average age, I remember how bad automatic gearboxes used to be. They could be clunky, basic units that had fewer gears than the manual alternatives, so it was hardly surprising that most buyers chose manual.
Because automatic gearboxes were far from great in the past, many of those who remember them believe their modern counterparts still offer some of the old disadvantages. Automatics used to have fewer gears than the manual alternative, and this resulted in poorer performance and inferior fuel economy. If you were buying a car and you intended to tow something with it, a three-speed automatic was never going to get the job done as well as a four or five-speed manual.
I started in Land Rover dealerships in 2004, which was just before the company dropped the manual option for the Discovery altogether. It was a rural area and there was an outcry from long-term Discovery owners over this as the majority were using them for towing. Few of them were even prepared to give the automatics a chance, and to some extent, these attitudes are still prevalent in the wider car-buying public.
Yes, a three-speed automatic is something I would never endorse, but today's automatics are a million miles away from the units of decades past. Most modern automatics are vastly superior to a manual, and the gulf between them is only widening.
My latest car has a nine-speed automatic, and the one before that was a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. I've recently been borrowing a manual, and I can’t wait to get back to an auto.
There's still a belief out there that buying an automatic means paying a penalty when it comes to fuel economy, but this simply isn’t the case any longer. When you compare automatics – which include CVTs and DCTs – with the manual option where available, it's almost always the case that the auto delivers better fuel economy.
At this point, I will present you with one very good reason why so many buyers still choose manuals over automatics, which is the price. With the average volume car, it will probably cost you about £1,500 more to buy the automatic, and this needs to change.
Modern automatics are more efficient and better in every way than a manual, which is why even the likes of Ferrari, Lamborghini, Aston Martin and other supercar manufacturers now lean heavily towards automatics.
Whether you’re looking to buy a new or used car and you've always bought manual, don’t rule out an automatic. Give one a try. Once you get used to driving a good automatic you might not want to go back to a manual. I didn't.