From David Coffrey at McClatchey:
Stick shifts could be going the way of whitewall tires, running boards and rumble seats. As recently as 1985, more than 50 percent of male car buyers said they wanted a stick shift. Last year, only 11 percent did, according to market researchers, and sales totaled 7 percent of the new car market. One reason is that most women prefer automatics. "I tried a stick shift once, and then I faced a hill, and I never tried again," said Danielle Wilt, 20, a junior at York College in York, Pa. Other reasons: Couples in which only one can drive a manual transmission, competition from sporty automatics and an insufficient number of hands. Among drivers who like driving, however, "Nothing has been a perfect replacement for the stick shift yet," said Alexander Edwards, the president of the automotive research division of Strategic Vision of Bandon, Ore. He said that predictions of the death of stick shifts are premature. Several experts theorized that people who consider driving a chore favor automatics because they make the job easier. By contrast, stick shifts "force you to be involved in the driving process," and enthusiastic drivers love that, said John Nielsen, AAA's national director of auto repair and buying. Seeking to give drivers the fun of a stick without the work, automakers are pushing five-, six- and even seven-speed automatics, mainly in sporty cars. Buyer interest in six-speeds increased from 9 percent to 15 percent of all potential buyers in the past five years, according to GfK Custom Research North America, a company that tracks market trends. Other alternatives, such as paddle shifters that shift gears without a clutch pedal, are spreading from high-end sports cars such as Ferraris to more mid-market Nissans and Corvettes. Declining stick sales over time mean that, "Young folks aren't exposed to manual transmissions at all anymore," Nielsen said. "And if you don't learn on it, you'll probably never learn."