In this article, I’m going to discuss renewed interest in manual transmissions that is starting to show up in vehicle sales data. I’ll then argue that EV manufacturers should consider some limited offerings to get a few more EVs on the road.
Manual Transmission Sales Are Picking Up
According to a recent article at WardsAuto, manual transmissions are experiencing a modest resurgence in the automotive industry, with a slight increase in market share after years of decline. According to J.D. Power, manual transmissions accounted for 1.7% of total new-vehicle sales in the U.S. in 2022, up from 1.2% in the previous year. CarMax also reported an increase in sales of vehicles with manual transmissions, reaching 2.9% in 2022.
While manual transmissions used to be a budget-friendly option, they no longer offer a significant cost advantage compared to automatic transmissions, according to CarMax’s pricing data. So, people aren’t buying them to save money these days.
The reasons for this rise in manuals are varied. CarMax reports that there is a growing interest in manual transmission vehicles among 20-something car buyers. Customers are attracted to these vehicles for various reasons, including nostalgia and a desire for a more engaging driving experience. In some cases, parents are choosing manual transmissions for their teenagers to discourage distracted driving. The Honda Civic, Ford Mustang, and Subaru WRX are among the top-selling manual-transmission cars.
However, the availability of manual vehicles from automakers is limited. For many models of vehicle, they simply aren’t available, and for many others, they’re only built in limited numbers. So, the rise in interest is going to lead to manufacturers rethinking the elimination of manuals from their lineups.
This presents an opportunity for EV manufacturers to tap into a new niche market, especially for performance-oriented EVs that would appeal to the people buying manuals for fun.
Nobody Cares If It’s Less Efficient, You Weird Nerds!
Let’s get one thing out of the way: the efficiency argument. Every time I talk about EVs and transmissions, I get dogpiled by people, usually people who have a weird obsession with Elon Musk and the quest to increase the light of consciousness by an order of magnitude or whatever. I usually try to explain why transmissions aren’t bad for EVs, but few listen because I’ve insulted their prophet. So, let’s put the efficiency argument off for a bit and get to something that’s less disputable.
The cold, hard fact is that efficiency doesn’t matter that much. If automotive manufacturers are going to sell 9,000-pound Hummer EVs, half-ton electric pickup trucks that get 2 miles/kWh, and the Audi E-Tron, then selling a little electric hatchback that loses some range to having a manual transmission really doesn’t matter, does it?
For all these other vehicles, we’re sacrificing efficiency to build an EV that people actually want to buy, and nobody bats an eye. But, even talk about building a slightly less efficient EV with a transmission, everybody loses their damned minds.
After seeing all of the anti-transmission hate from people in the comments and on social media over the years, I just have to say, get a life! Will you, people? I mean, for crying out loud, it’s just a drivetrain! I mean, look at you, look at the way your driveway looks. You’ve turned an enjoyable little car hobby into a colossal waste of time!
I love efficient EVs as much, if not more, than the next person. I even have an order in for two Apteras. But, I know that not everyone wants to drive a weird two-seater teardrop car with solar panels. I’m not going to look down on people who drive a less efficient Tesla, because that’s what they want to drive and it works for them. It’s none of my business what EV you choose.
So, if you’re the guy in a Tesla crowing about transmissions in the comments, maybe try to understand that other people have different wants and needs than you, and just be glad that they’re driving an EV instead of an unrepaired VW dieselgate car.
The Efficiency Argument Against Transmissions Doesn’t Hold Water
But, the fact is that multiple gear ratios is good for EVs. Multiple manufacturers over the years have experimented with this and found that it works well. Having a lower gear for low-end torque is good. Having a higher gear to get the electric motor into the efficiency sweet spot on the highway is also good. It’s also possible to get more performance out of a smaller, less energy hungry motor, and save some weight to boot.
Even dual motor Teslas have two different gear ratios in the front and rear, and use the taller gear ratio cruising at highway speeds, so even Dear Leader knows the concept works, even if it’s not done with a gearbox.
Better efficiency wouldn’t happen in all models, because some are going to be performance oriented, but it isn’t possible.
Manual EVs are Easier To Drive Than Manual ICE Cars
Finally, let’s keep in mind that electric motors don’t stall when you take them to zero RPM. The benefits of this are already known not only by people who’ve driven an EV conversion, but also by vehicle manufacturers who have tested prototypes, like the Jeep Magneto.
The hardest part of learning to drive a manual transmission is learning to use the clutch. The clutch is what lets a combustion engine and the wheels operate in a semi-disconnected state for a few moments until you’ve got the car going fast enough to not drag the motor down and stall it out. After that, the more direct connection between the engine and the wheels is OK.
But, with a motor that can’t stall, you can simply leave the vehicle in gear most of the time. For around town, you’d probably leave it in second gear and drive it like a normal EV. If you need to take off hard (more torque multiplication) or pull a stump, use first. When you get on the highway, shift it to third or fourth and then cruise normally and enjoy some additional range.
Or, if you’re having fun on the track, you get a second wind on the straight sections in an EV with a taller gear, and something to launch out of the corners with. Plus, with the low mass of a rotor in an electric motor, you don’t have to worry so much about rev matching and heel-toe.
For off-roading, you can get the benefit of a granny gear for rock crawling and climbing steep, rough hills without having to worry about putting the vehicle in 4-Low or slipping a clutch. So, you can get the best of both worlds in some ways.
In other words, you can get the fun and engagement without the daily driving hassles that usually accompany a manual.
Not For Everybody, But Good For Getting A Few More EVs In Driveways
Obviously, having another manual control in the car isn’t for everybody. People who think a round steering wheel is too much, and who are bothered by the presence of any button in their car are not going to want an EV with a manual transmission. Even people who want a more traditional boring crossover experience are probably not going to want a shift lever in the car.
But, for the few enthusiasts and people with nostalgia who want a manual transmission, it’s a good way to get them to buy an EV. At the end of the day, that’s what environmentalists and other EV fans should be happy about.
Featured Image: Jeep’s Magneto 3.0 prototype vehicle that combines an innovative axial flux motor with a manual transmission. Image provided by Jeep.
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