Auto is killing manuals

7 June 2011
, The Australian
Auto is killing manuals
Australians are becoming more clutch-averse than ever

… 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.