Are Manual Gearboxes Dying A Slow Death?

Something remarkable happened in the first nine months of 2020 and, for once, it’s a stat that has nothing to do with Covid-19 and global pandemics.

In the UK, from January to the end of September, there were more new cars sold with automatic gearboxes than with manual.

This may come as a surprise, often when people are asked what they imagine the breakdown of manual to automatic is they answer with something in the region of 75/25. And then they hurry off wondering why they’ve just been asked what they think the ratio of manual to automatic gearboxes is.

We have touched upon some of the reasons for the shift in recent blog posts. Learner drivers are now increasingly likely to choose an automatic as it no longer feels a lesser choice. There is no sense that you’ll be missing out by forever being stuck with an auto.

It is also becoming somewhat self-fulfilling. Parents are more likely to have an automatic than was once the case and so it becomes more likely their kids will learn on an automatic.

As this switch happens, manufacturers take notice – its a bit of a chicken and egg of course. As demand for automatics grows, so demand for manuals drops and more automatic options are offered. 

However, will this continue to be the trend until manuals are quickly no more? If automatics becomes 70% of the market will some manufacturers then drop manuals altogether, deeming it not worth the effort.

What is fascinating is the sudden acceleration in demand (the acceleration of a modern auto is pretty good too).

You might imagine a gradual increase, in fact it is anything but.

The Autocar website has a fascinating graph – it shows that in the early 2000s the ratio stayed almost constant from 2001 to 2019 at around 15%, then, two years later it was close to 25%. Another levelling out follows, then another sharp rise.

These sharp increases seem to focus minds, we have already seen Mercedes recently all-but withdraw from making manuals.

Autocar speculates that this will be a key dividing line – luxury brands will cease to make manuals, while other makes will keep them going. This is backed up by a look across to Europe, where in a country as wealthy as Luxembourg, manuals are now rare, whereas elsewhere they are far more commonplace. The mass market production of cheaper manuals makes them remain a key part of certain brands’ offering. Ford, for instance, continues to sell the likes of the manual Fiesta in huge quantities. Across Europe, only 6% of the cars Fiat sold were automatic. 

What we may see is an increasingly obvious divide between those makes who have completely abandoned manuals and those for whom it is a key part of the business. Currently, most fall into the latter.

It may even be that we are due for another levelling off. Manuals may now account for less than 50% of UK car sales but that isn’t to say 50% will quickly become 40%, then 20%, then nothing. It could be that for the next period, it stays constant once again.

We are entering a period where all options appear equal to many drivers.


At North West Transmissions we repair gearboxes or source replacement with guaranteed refurbished units.

A family-run business, we have a truly superb reputation, this shown by our 4.9 out of 5 average rating from dozens of reviews on Google.

All reconditioned gearboxes come with guarantees for 12 months or 12,000 miles while reconditioned automatic units come with a re-manufactured torque converter that has a lifetime guarantee.

Our technicians are all highly skilled with vast experience in reconditioning and repairing all units – importantly their efficiency helps cut down the price of repairs and so too the cost.

Gearbox problems are all-too common. If you find yourself in need of a repair or reconditioned unit, that often being the more economical option in the long term, please contact us.

Call us on 0151 933 0257 or use our Contact Form.