LOS ANGELES — Cars with manual transmissions are making a modest comeback, but with tens of millions of drivers lacking the ability to operate a stick shift, analysts don't expect a big jump. Auto information company Edmunds.com says that vehicles equipped with manual transmissions have accounted for 7 percent of auto sales so far this year. That compares to a 3.9 percent share of sales in all of 2011.
If the trend holds, the manual transmission share of auto sales will be the highest since 2006.
"A combination of factors — from the growing age of vehicle trade-ins bringing more manual drivers back to market, to a greater proportion of smaller cars on the road — is creating a small spike for stick shifts," said Ivan Drury, an Edmunds.com analyst. "But even though manual cars are on the rise now, they're on track to be virtually extinct in the next 15 to 20 years."
Automakers are offering fewer vehicles with manual transmission as an option. Edmunds.com found that 64 percent of all 2012 model year vehicles are available only with automatic transmission. Ten years ago, the number was a much smaller 48 percent.
Technology and pricing trends have ended some of the traditional advantages that manuals had over automatics.
At one time, manual transmissions always achieved better fuel economy, but with the advent of six- and eight-speed automatic transmissions, that's no longer a sure bet. Edmunds points out that the automatic version of the Ford Focus has better fuel economy than its manual sibling.
Similarly, a car with a manual transmission once was always less expensive than the same model in an automatic. Several General Motors vehicles, including the popular Chevrolet Cruze and the Cadillac CTS, now cost the same for both versions, according to Edmunds.com.