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Auto is killing manuals

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    Australians are becoming more clutch-averse than ever

AUSTRALIA has become a two-pedal nation as people increasingly shun manual cars?

… and opt for automatics. More are learning to drive on them and more are buying them, amplifying a trend that began with our love of the large sedan.

The Holden Commodores and Ford Falcons that used to dominate the market were overwhelmingly automatics and while our vehicle choices have changed, we are more clutch-averse than ever. Compared with Britain, where just one new vehicle in five is an auto, 71 per cent of Australian buyers opted for one last year -- up from 61 per cent a decade ago.

The habit is being driven by congested cities, technical advances that mean automatics are no longer the thirsty option, and our preference for the luxury-end of a model line, where automatics are the default choice.

But even at entry level the two smallest car categories are now 68 per cent automatic, up from 44 per cent a decade ago, as fewer new drivers learn to change gear. Licence numbers reflect this, with 69 per cent of NSW P-platers limited to driving automatics, up from 61 per cent in 2000.

P-plater Erinn Brukmann shares her mother's new Ford Fiesta and says learning to drive a manual was never a priority. "None of my friends know how to drive manuals," she said.

As singles become families, they buy SUVs but not the truck-like off-roaders of old. In a modern high-riding crossover, buyers want the transmission to do the work. A decade ago, 44 per cent of SUVs were automatics, now it's 84 per cent.

SUVs have become the launch pad for a different type of auto, the continuously variable transmission, with more than 26,000 bought last year.

Efficiency was a weakpoint of traditional automatics but their ability to offer more gears means they have caught up.

Where manuals are effectively restricted to six speeds, automatics could reach double that. Even in sportscars, the manual gearbox is being replaced. The quickest -- and most economical -- sportscars now have paddle-shifters behind the wheel like Formula 1 racers. In Australia, four out of five sportscars are bought with two pedals, double the figure 10 years ago. In a first for the brand, the new Lamborghini Aventador will not offer a manual gearbox at all. At the Geneva motor show in March, Lamborghini chief Stephan Winkelmann said demand for manuals had withered to zero.


Comments on this story

Displaying 3 of 36 comments

  • Phil of Geraldton - I do drive some autos and did have brake failure in two. However, by rapidly pulling the selector back to "L" and using the hand brake, I had no problem with stopping safely. It's important to remember to keep your foot on the brake to warn cars behind that you are stopping.

    Doug of Werribee Posted on 04 October 2011 8:59am
  • I agree that Australians are becoming a nation of slack drivers. Manuals allow you to use the gears to aid braking, unlike an automatic whereby you just jump on the brakes. Heaven help anyone in an automatic who suffers a brake failure, they would not have a clue what to do. In a manual you at least have some chance of slowing. It is typical of the lazy idle society that now exists. Long live the manual box and those who drive them. It is a true joy to be able to control your revs and have the car work for you as they are designed to do. I support the lover of motorcycles as well as I ride one too. Oh, and it has a manual gearbox hahaha.

    Phill of Geraldton Posted on 06 September 2011 5:05pm
  • It is a bit sad that the manual is dying. They involve the driver much more and help keep concentration up. Plus with an auto you are just steering, in a manual you are actually in full control of the vehicle. I have driven autos before and all of them have done something 'stupid' like stalling, or disengaging the handbrake causing near crashes. In my opinion the whole auto vs manual debate is the reason people are buying cars overseas. It is ridiculously expensive to buy a large manual wagon from holden. Ford doesn't even make them anymore.

    Marcus of Gold Coast Posted on 01 August 2011 11:13pm
  • Unfortunately a lot of drivers can't even drive an automatic properly. If you have an overdrive, the car manual will tell you to use a lower direct gear when towing. In any case, it is usual for the manual to advise drivers to change back to a lower gear on a protracted steep descent. Many drivers who I've pointed it out to and shown them that advice in the manual have NEVER read their manual. Many don't even know that you can lock the car in lower gears for special reasons. Manual gearboxes, car or motorbike, give finer control and are a lot more fun. But you do need to know how to listen to and care for the engine - not often taught to novice drivers, who then never learn how to.

    Doug of Werribee Posted on 28 July 2011 8:03pm
  • I much rather drive a manual, 'cause then you have only yourself to blame for dodgy gearshifts or incorrect timing! Makes you a much better driver. I hate flattening it and sitting there, waiting for the stupid thing to shift back one, two or three gears when overtaking (btw, Kia Grand Carnival 3.8 V6, goes v. well, but slowest 5 spd gear box ever.) and it's me dads, not mine!

    mannix Posted on 24 June 2011 5:28pm
  • Gender breakdown please!!

    Alan of Logan, Qld Posted on 21 June 2011 3:47pm
  • Ugh, 80% of sports car sales are autos! Disgusting. No wonder we're having more accidents on the roads, people don't want to drive cars anymore.

    danielb of sydney Posted on 14 June 2011 2:47pm
  • As autos have become more complex, going from two speeds back in the good old days of the Fordomatic and the Powerglide to the current crop of six speed and more, the cost of an overhaul and the likelihood of that happening has increased. Try getting a quote to rebuild one of those nice Mercedes or BMW seven or eight speeders. It would be less expensive to go and buy a new Corolla on a worst case scenario. If you love driving, just get a six speed manual and enjoy the experience of coordinating that extra pedal and the shifter. Even better with a high revving performance four cylinder, but almost as much fun with a V6 or a V8. Stick to be speed limits, though, and keep a careful eye out for dreamers and geriatrics.

    Colin Spencer of Kangaroo Ground Victoria Posted on 13 June 2011 5:22pm
  • Semi automatic (actuated manual) is not the same as automatic. High end paddle shift sports cars are semi automatic.

    johnny Posted on 13 June 2011 11:47am
  • There are no auto trannies in Moto GP. Can't remember the last time I drove car but haven't ever owned one with a slushbox. Toughen up! Try riding a motorbike, it's a heap more fun. But I guess I'd need to get some serious cold/wet weather apparel if I lived much more south than cyclone ally.

    daztsv of tsvnq Posted on 12 June 2011 3:04am
  • I own three manuals, have had auto's, their OK depends on the person. But, all learners should be made to learn to drive manuals AND learn to change flat tyres.

    Ivan Elms of Launceston TAS Posted on 11 June 2011 8:25pm
  • What riles me even more is that, as mentioned in a previous comment, people who tested for automatic on their Provisional Licences (this is in NSW as well), can drive manual once they are fully licenced. Bugger off; unless it is necessary for them to drive manual, they should not be allowed until they do a separate test for manual. It's their decision not to drive manual in the first place.

    Allen J Posted on 11 June 2011 8:16pm
  • Manuals dying? Sorry,when I got my P1 Licence last year for manual, almost everyone else in my grade wanted to drive manual. It is entirely car dependent; imagine driving a manual Toyota Aurion? My best mate complained recently that autos were "too easy", and he has a point. Pick a gear,and off you go. However, if you want comfort, buy an auto: I wouldn't mind one of those ZF 6-speed autos. But if you want even more control, get a manual. It's up to the driver; some of you guys are acting like children, even though most of you are twice my age. This is a really stupid article; each transmission has its own strength, but what really buggers me is when people say "Oh, so and so, can drive manual really smoothly." If you want smoothness, get an automatic; manuals are meant to be thrashed. Also, my racing hero, Ayrton Senna, only got a taste of the paddle-shifts in 1993 and 1994. Before then, all his F1 cars were purely manual.

    AJ Posted on 11 June 2011 8:11pm
  • Its laughable that someone who drives a paddle shifter thinks it's the best of both worlds. You gotta be kidding, nothing beats a slick shifting manual on a winding road, close ratio box and a button clutch.... I moved to a dsg auto thinking it could be this nirvana of auto ease with manual controllability but I was so wrong. Went back to my 6 speed stick shift and saved my 2k. Also saved on repairing these dsg's since all make twin clutch boxes have reliability issues.....

    Vin of Sydney Posted on 11 June 2011 6:39pm
  • Thats why modern cars are so boring....the auto is just one way cars are being made less and less exciting,,, almost every new car is made to look boring, drive boring andbe boring,.. hence the reason we now have so many boring people. driving boring cars..

    X Posted on 11 June 2011 5:59pm
  • I believe you're not a true driver unless you know how to drive a manual. By knowing how to drive a manual well affords you the experience of being more aware of what's going on and car control. Not only does it minimise the presence of a free hand to go texting or putting on make up etc etc etc, it also saves you a bit of fuel and money when buying a new car not to mention get yourself out of trouble in case you need to accelerate quickly to get out of potential accidents instead of waiting for the transmission and engine to kick in which inevitably result in a "too late" response. You're also more likely to fall asleep behind the wheel of an automatic car. Maybe some people are too used to technology these days and are getting more and more lazier hence going for the easy option of an automatic. Otherwise, it could be that driving an auto for their driving test affords them less things to worry about such as "car control" and "stalling" which may lead them to fail on the day?

    Dave of Melbourne Posted on 11 June 2011 5:49pm
  • I think the majority of people would fall into two types of categories- those who HAVE to drive, and those who WANT to drive to get from A to B. The former would be those people who treat driving as a chore. The latter would be those people who have passion about cars and driving in general. Driving an automatic feels like you're playing a computer game- stop, go, stop, go etc. Driving a manual, feels like you're actually part of the car i.e. the essential 'link' between the engine and the driving wheels. You have to do the thinking, timing and gear changing, and that requires co-ordination and concentration.With time though, that all becomes second nature. It does make you a safer driver, as it forces you to anticipate and drive according to the traffic and road conditions. Mastering smooth gear changes takes time, but it is so so satisfying.

    Gasman Posted on 10 June 2011 7:53pm
  • To Rick of Melbourne. You say that manual car drivers are better than automatic car drivers. What a load of drivel. I learn't to drive in a manual nearly 40 years ago, and around 20 years ago switched to an automatic. I still drive as carefully as I did then. Driving an automatic enables you to focus more on the road, and no I don't talk on my mobile or listen to MP's as someone suggested. The issue with today's drivers is they all want to race around the roads, and your transmission is irrelevant. Better and safer driving comes from proper training, which you don't get from instructors today due to deregulation of the industry, and the poor habits of parents with their own kids.

    David Crane of Epping Posted on 10 June 2011 6:30pm
  • Although the trend towards automatics is undeniable, car manufacturers themselves are driving (pardon the pun) a lot of the change. I know several people who have ended up with an automatic car only because the model they chose wasn't available in Australia as a manual or because the dealer didn't keep any stock. VW in particular are guilty of this. With their DSG (which I find to be dreadful to drive) they take the attitude that manual drivers are begging to be freed from the tyranny of the clutch pedal, which couldn't be further from the truth. It is a shame, as I do believe that learning in a manual car makes you a better driver. I remember an ex-girlfriend with an auto licence and driving with her often made me car sick, as she had no concept of gearing and always braked at the last minute.

    Phillip Posted on 10 June 2011 6:05pm
  • Well if people only have an 'auto only' licence, they have more time to focus on things other than driving. Not having to change gears frees up a hand for mobile phones and MP3 players. Regardless of how good an auto is, there is nothing like changing your own gears.

    Dave S Posted on 10 June 2011 4:07pm
  • No probs with autos and very convenient in traffic etc. although have always owned a manual in 30 years of driving. I do believe learning to drive a manual will make you more 'aware' of what?s going on and to anticipate traffic flows etc. Hopefully this will make better drivers, however what scares me is that a person that learnt in an Auto and had a restricted Licence on P's etc can then (in Vic) hop in a manual once they are on an open licence with perhaps very little idea of how to drive one.

    Marto of Melbourne Posted on 10 June 2011 1:52pm
  • I experience a HIGH every time I drive my '89 model manual Mazda MX5. In heavy traffic the automatic Falcon SNOOZEMOBILE is admittedly the more comfortable option.

    Dick Drag'emoff of Lara Posted on 10 June 2011 12:39pm
  • Jabba.........nothing wrong with using the handbrake..........stops the car rolling off down hills. Fairly essential in tassie. don't usually use it while driving, tho (seems as tho u can only do a certain number of comments under a certain name........).

    Jeevsey of hobart Posted on 09 June 2011 3:29pm
  • With the myriad of speed limits and speed cameras, coupled with congested traffic conditions in Sydney, I don't find driving to be a pleasant experience most of the time these days. I purchased a VW Golf TDI equipped with DSG 6 years ago - the only issue I have with the DSG transmission is that it not easy to reverse smoothly uphill. I believe a modern automatic transmission (and I exclude 4 speed automatics from this definition) makes for a more pleasant and safer driving experience in today's driving conditions than a manual transmission.

    The Billy Hawk of Sydney Posted on 09 June 2011 3:27pm
  • Horses for courses, Autos are for steerers manuals are for true drivers who can handle a vehicle--a lot more skill for the mechanically minded off rd driving and racing V8s as an example. around town great!

    Allan of Queensland Posted on 09 June 2011 12:07pm
  • I laugh at all you so called "drivers" of manuals that whinge about burnt out clutches then blame the car...

    Mr Orchy Posted on 09 June 2011 11:15am
  • @Jeevsey (Jeevse)(Bob) or whatever you are calling yourself now. You need to get your hand off your handbrake dude

    Jabba The Hutt Posted on 09 June 2011 11:12am
  • autos may be better in heavy traffic. what happens when you have a flat battery, can't push start an auto. car breaks down, can't tow an auto without lifting the driving wheels.

    Terry of Adelaide Posted on 09 June 2011 11:11am
  • Auto is the go. Drive a manual all week, jump in an auto on the weekend it's paradise. Support manuals hahha, I would sooner pay heaps to have an auto repaired than drive a manual. Jeeveys comment is lacking content, who cares where the handbrake is and when did Australia become the centre of the universe

    Brad Smith of orange nsw Posted on 08 June 2011 9:12pm
  • Only problem is that when your maintenance free auto drops its guts in about 5 years, it will cost you between 4 to 6 grand to fix it. Swings and roundabouts folks.

    Ashley of Canterbury Posted on 08 June 2011 4:56pm
  • With the best of both worlds (with paddle shift gear selection), why bother having a manual? I drive with the paddle shifts all the time around town and love it, and with my transmission I can change gear faster than I ever could the 'traditional' way (about 0.8sec). And if I feel like it (not that I do), I can hold it into 'red' territory if I like. And the ADR fuel economy rating is lower for my auto than it is for the manual equivalent! Wins all round. Probably also explains why the uptake of autos in sports cars has doubled in the last decade - having the ability to change gear yourself quicker and safer than the 'old fashioned way'.

    DJCJ of Melbourne Posted on 08 June 2011 2:13pm
  • They didn't publish the comment under the name of Jeeves, but if they are talking about Australian cars, why does the centre console pictured have the handbrake on the wrong side?

    Jeevsey of Hobart Posted on 08 June 2011 9:38am
  • why do we even have the option to gain a auto only licence without a valid exemption all learners should be taught to drive a manual unless physicaly incapable. but this again calls for proper driver training.

    jason of melb Posted on 07 June 2011 3:50pm
  • ...which is a shame because manual drivers are almost always better drivers!

    H of Central Coast Posted on 07 June 2011 2:08pm
  • Just goes to show how lazy Australians have become. If something can be done for them by pressing a button, so much the better. In this regard we are following the US rather than Europe. My kids have been taught to drive a manual as it is my firm belief that it makes them better (and safer) drivers. Also, if they wanted to be able to borrow the car, they had no choice! We had a French exchange student stay with us a few years back. Whilst showing her the country we hired an XR6 which came with an auto transmission. When she saw the auto-transmission lever she asked 'What's that ?'. In her 18 years, she had never seen an automatic .....

    Rick of Melbourne Posted on 07 June 2011 1:46pm
  • I can understand for large family cars with lots of torque, going for an auto. Cant understand this in "light cars" where most are offered with lazy 4 speed autos which make lethargic small engines nearly un-driveable. Of course the 7 speed polo and 6 speed five star dual clutches are the exception. However, I have never understood buying a sports car in auto. You buy a sports car because the driving experience is better than a family sedan or wagon. You miss out on half the experience in an auto. Can?t possibly imagine, buying a Porsche in auto. What a waste.

    DM Posted on 07 June 2011 1:41pm
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