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I've noticed that Spanish people prefer manual transmissions, and automatics are harder to find there (opposite to USA).

Is that the case in the rest of EU, or just a Spanish thing?

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    I guess this has chagned a bit over the past decades. Manual has always been standard in Europe. Don't have figures, so I only comment. It's believed manual shifting allows for faster acceleration. Commented Jun 8, 2022 at 20:00
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    I think it’s more of a rest-of-world than rest-of-EU thing. There’s only a handful or so if countries where automatic is preponderant, though I couldn’t find detailed figures though. But I can tell you France is mostly manual.
    – jcaron
    Commented Jun 8, 2022 at 20:46
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    I can only add that 20 years ago in Italy an automatic was a special request for rental cars.
    – Peter M
    Commented Jun 8, 2022 at 20:49
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    At one time in UK, apart from luxury cars the automatic was generally for people who did not like driving, and so the cars that had them were often of low powered spec. Nearly everybody had a manual. But the modern auto box is very different and much more popular, efficient, and will out-perform a human driver (at least on the up-shifts). Commented Jun 8, 2022 at 21:48

5 Answers 5

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As a European, I would say that we definitely tend to drive manual cars way more than automatic, although automatic cars are becoming more common especially in city settings.

Compared to, let's say 10 years ago, rentals now offer more automatic cars, but still way less compared to manual cars, so they run out fast.

This is true, in my experience, in Italy and other Southern European countries and in parts of Ireland and the UK.

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    Also, electric cars almost never have gears, so the number of cars with a stick shift will probably go down in the next 20-30 years. In fact for Italy I believe for personal cars the number of automatic shift cars is probably so small that electric cars are already at around the same number of a couple of percent points. Rentals are probably way more likely to offer automatic cars.
    – GACy20
    Commented Jun 9, 2022 at 7:52
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    @mirabilos I learned on a manual, and always loved it. But I've owned mostly automatic vehicles for at least 15 years because (1) manuals are much harder to find and (2) it is extremely tiring when trying to commute with a manual transmission giving the starts and stops that happen. Commented Jun 9, 2022 at 20:05
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    Automatic cars are mainly a physical/mental disability thing over here (the Netherlands). No one willingly chooses to get their drivers' license in an automatic, as that means you get a limited license that will never allow you to drive a manual like a normal person, and you will always end up having to pay extra when you want to buy or lease another car as automatics are more expensive than regular cars. That's why they're pretty uncommon, they're either a necessity because of some kind of disability to drive a normal car, or a rich person's luxury. Commented Jun 10, 2022 at 8:49
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    @mirabilos You don't have to "learn" automatics. Anyone who can drive a manual can also drive an automatic with little or no adjustment. The reverse is of course not true. Commented Jun 10, 2022 at 16:25
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    @DarrelHoffman that's not true at all. You have to learn that the car starts moving before you finish talking your foot of the break, among other things. For my wife that was extremely stressful the first time she drove an automatic.
    – phoog
    Commented Jun 11, 2022 at 12:44
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Is that the case in the rest of EU, or just a Spanish thing?

Percentage of cars with automatic transmission among 2018 sales (sales, not current fleet, and EVs are regarded as having automatic transmission):

enter image description here

This map was made using data from the ICCT European vehicle market statistics: Pocketbook 2019-2020.


Country-specific stats:

France via Gtranslate:

Automatic gearbox: only 8% of sales in… 2004 Buying a car with an automatic transmission? It was not yet self-evident in the 2000s. As the Caradisiac site indicates, in 2004 only 8% of new cars were fitted with an automatic gearbox. These vehicles dragged with them the image of a "grandpa's car" recalls the Sud-Ouest newspaper. Comfortable certainly, but not inefficient...

Everything has accelerated in recent years. In 2016, cars with automatic transmission reached 25% of new car sales. In 2021, they will reach a new, highly symbolic level: according to RTL, more than half (54%) of new cars sold in France are equipped with an automatic gearbox. The latter have taken over the manual gearboxes. This is a historic first on the French car market.

UK:

enter image description here

Compared to the US:

enter image description here

FYI: Why Manual Transmissions Are Dying … and What’ll End Them for Good

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – JonathanReez
    Commented Jun 9, 2022 at 15:36
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    @Harper-ReinstateUkraine thanks I edited the post Commented Jun 12, 2022 at 2:54
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Same in the whole Eastern Europe from Greece and Turkey all the way to Estonia and Finland.

The prevalence of manuals is even more pronounced in ex-socialist countries where the cars are on average much older and the drivers' habits and expectation are shaped accordingly.

Almost everyone here can drive manual and this is taken for granted (if one can drive a car at all, which is NOT taken for granted as it is in the US).

Automatic rentals are offered, but you have to double-check if you want an automatic. These are usually bigger, more expensive and have worse fuel economy.

The last point is also somewhat important since the gas prices are not like in the US either.

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    "worse fuel economy" in a modern automatic is not true unless the driver is very skilled in using a standard economically.
    – WGroleau
    Commented Jun 9, 2022 at 13:52
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    @WGroleau it doesn't take masses of skill, but plenty of drivers choose not to think about driving efficiently. That's doubly a shame as the forward-planning involved is good for safety as well Commented Jun 9, 2022 at 15:14
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    @fraxinus that’s a common meme in Europe but unfortunately it’s not true. Automatic gearboxes have been better than the average human for at least a decade.
    – JonathanReez
    Commented Jun 9, 2022 at 15:37
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    @mirabilos I guess so but that’s not how the argument is presented in the “manual is more fuel efficient” meme
    – JonathanReez
    Commented Jun 9, 2022 at 20:58
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    @mirabilos What you're saying here is heavier cars use more fuel. Commented Jun 10, 2022 at 9:18
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Many people think an automatic gearbox is detrimental to the pleasure of driving in Europe. This attitude is (slowly) changing now with the introduction of faster sequential automatic gearboxes with the option of manually controlling the gears.

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High gasoline prices in Europe, compared to the United States, made the small improvement in mileage worth staying with more efficient manual transmissions. Recent automatic transmissions have a much smaller penalty (if any!), so a barrier to acceptance has disappeared.

It has now become routine in the USA to see a story of a car thief who abandons the stolen vehicle because he couldn't drive a stick shift. Google turned up three YouTube videos on the first try. Example.

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