When Nissan launched the all-new, seventh-generation Z sports car, company executives had one specific requirement: a manual transmission.
“In the more than 50 years of the Nissan Z, we’ve never offered a Z without a manual transmission,” Z marketing director Brian Hoekstra told ABC News. “We recognize that for many Z and sports car enthusiasts, there is simply no alternative to a manual transmission.”
The coupe, which went on sale last summer, features a twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 engine that develops 400 horsepower at 6,400 rpm and 350 lb-ft of torque. Drivers have the choice between a six-speed manual transmission or a nine-speed automatic. Hoekstra said sales are evenly split between manual and automatic, with younger owners preferring the “nostalgic experience” of three pedals.
“The manual transmission delivers that classic sports car experience – it’s the ultimate driver-car connection, where you truly feel like part of the vehicle and can control it in ways you couldn’t with a gearbox. automatic,” he said. . “As long as there are still new internal combustion engine vehicles on the market, there will be interest in manual transmissions.”
The automotive community has been decrying the death of the manual transmission for nearly two decades, said Henry Catchpole, a longtime automotive journalist who now hosts videos for Hagerty. As more automakers allocate resources to building electric vehicles, drivers are choosing engagement over pure performance, he explained.
“People are re-evaluating what they want and going back to analog cars. It’s a big story in the industry,” he told ABC News. “There’s a shift in the way we look at performance cars. We’re not quoting paddle shifters like we do with manual gearboxes. Drivers are appreciating the manual again.”
Electric vehicles like the Porsche Taycan, Audi RS e-tron GT and Tesla Model S Plaid boast performance that few traditional supercars and sports cars can match. However, straight-line acceleration and 0-60 mph times may not matter to all motorists, said Bob Sorokanich, Jalopnik’s editor.
“Tesla has the fastest car on the market – just hit the gas and hang in there,” he told ABC News. “It doesn’t require any pilot skills.”
Automakers like Nissan, Toyota, Porsche and Honda continue to tout manual transmissions, he said, a “last hurray” before the industry goes completely electric.
“It’s inevitable that EVs will take over and people’s eyes are foggy that the manual won’t be around forever,” he said. “That’s why people are flocking to these specialist cars. Young people are interested in the opportunity to experience them as internal combustion engines come to an end.”
When Toyota released the Supra sports car in 2020, enthusiasts had one objection: there was no manual gearbox. The automaker listened and decided to offer the 2023 GR Supra with a new six-speed manual transmission designed and tuned specifically for the coupe’s inline-six engine. At least 25% of GR Supra sales are expected to be the manual, a company spokesperson said.
Then, to great acclaim, Toyota unveiled the GR Corolla, a light and lively hot hatch that meets the demands of any enthusiast. It is also built exclusively with a manual. Sorokanich expects Toyota to sell everyone.
“The GR Corolla is for engagement,” he said.
Lindsay Lee, Toyota’s senior automotive marketing and communications manager, said demand was unprecedented for the GR Corolla.
“There is excitement in the market for a vehicle of this size with this level of performance,” she told ABC News.
Porsche takes driver engagement so seriously that it offers 25 models with a no-cost manual transmission. Some 911 models, such as the Carrera T and GT3 with Touring Package, come standard with a manual gearbox.
“We are seeing the greatest interest in manual transmissions on particularly enthusiast-focused variants such as the 718 Cayman/Boxster T, 718 Cayman GT4 and 718 Spyder or 911 GT3, where the manual take-up rate in the United States can reach 50% or more,” a Porsche spokesperson told ABC News. “Our goal is to offer manual transmission as a choice for as long as regulations allow.”
Stephanie Brinley, Associate Director at S&P Global Mobility, said recent market conditions have dictated what automakers build, leading to lower investment in manual transmission technology.
“Automakers are faced with tough choices and manuals are things that have been sacrificed over the past two years,” she told ABC News.
However, pleasing a dedicated group of owners who are willing to pay more than MSRP for a niche product can outweigh the costs, she noted.
“It’s a niche space, but sometimes customer loyalty is a reason to keep going,” she said. “Electric vehicles are here and growing. They have a different feel and level of engagement. For people who want that manual transmission connection, now is the time to grab one before you go.”
BMW’s head of M products has confirmed that the German automaker will keep the manuals until the end of the decade. The S58 engine in the company’s new M2 Coupe can be mated to either a six-speed manual gearbox or a dynamic eight-speed M Steptronic transmission.
At the unveiling of the seventh-generation Ford Mustang in September, company executives touted the Blue Oval’s commitment to the clutch pedal.
“Ford has retained the manual transmission for a new generation and the 5.0-litre V8 continues to offer a standard six-speed manual transmission for customers who want an uncompromising connection to eight-cylinder power,” according to a statement. company press releases.
The Dearborn automaker has also seen tremendous interest among manual buyers for its Ford Bronco 4X4, with a participation rate exceeding 20%, according to Brinley.
Honda’s latest Type R hatchback is visually different from its predecessor, with an aggressive front bumper design, lower stance and redesigned rear spoiler. What hasn’t changed? A manual transmission. Honda’s Civic Si, like the Type R, has been manual-only since its inception and the company sees “constant interest from enthusiasts who want an engaging driving experience that can only be achieved by shifting gears” , according to a spokesperson. When Honda’s Acura brand launched the fifth-generation Integra in March, enthusiasts hailed the return of the manual.
“At launch, nearly 70% of Integra pre-orders were for the manual transmission,” the spokesperson said. “Since then, the gender balance has stabilized, but we still see strong demand for the manual gearbox, more than enough to justify its development.”
Catchpole said the relentless pressure on automakers to keep the manual alive has benefited an industry that is rapidly closing the door on gas-powered vehicles.
“Some people see textbooks as a chore, but they’re not. They bring more color to life,” he said. “Porsche listened to the enthusiasts and brought the manual back into the GT3. I hope other manufacturers will listen too.”