CarMax data shows a rise in manual transmission sales in 2021 and 2022
CarMax data highlights from January 2020 through December 2022:
After falling to 2.4% of sales in 2020, manual transmission sales at CarMax increased to 2.8% in 2021 and 2.9% in 2022.
CarMax’s flexible car buying experience has attracted a wide variety of customers, including a strong millennial audience that values the blended online and in-store experience. The stick shift audience skews younger and male with the typical manual car buyer four years younger than the average CarMax customer.
The Honda Civic was the top selling manual vehicle at CarMax during this period.
In October 2020’s The Stick Shift Index: Do People Still Drive Stick Shift Cars in America?, we looked at the data surrounding stick shifts at CarMax and found that just 2.4% of sales were stick shifts (down from 3.7% in 2018 when we first looked at the data).
Since then, recent industry reports have shown a revival in manual transmission sales across the United States. According to J.D. Power, manuals accounted for 1.7% of total new vehicle sales in 2023, up from 1.2% in 2022 and a low of 0.9% in 2021.
CarMax sales data also shows an uptick in manual sales. Starting in 2021, manual sales at CarMax began to slightly increase. After falling to 2.4% of sales in 2020, manual sales increased to 2.8% in 2021 and 2.9% in 2022.
This uptick begs the question, why are more shoppers buying used manual cars today? Who is the primary consumer for manuals? And what types of vehicles are they buying? Let’s take a look at the data.
The first chart below shows the percentage of manual cars sold annually at our stores since 1995. The second chart shows a close-up view from 2018-2022 where you can see the recent uptick in manual sales.
The Price Difference Between Automatic & Manuals
In the past, there was a significant cost advantage to consider for purchasing a used manual over a used automatic. In 1998, a manual was averaging about 25% cheaper than an automatic at CarMax. Fast forward to 2022 and manuals at CarMax are, on average, less than 5% cheaper than automatics.
Based on today’s data it’s likely that the price is no longer the primary reason for buying a used stick shift. The chart below shows the price difference between average automatic and manual sales at CarMax since 1995.
A Shift Within a Generation: The Used Manual Car Buyer
CarMax’s flexible car buying experience has attracted a wide variety of customers, including a strong millennial audience that values the blended online and in-store experience.
According to CarMax sales data from January 2020 through December 2022, the stick shift audience skews younger and male with the typical manual car buyer four years younger than the average CarMax customer.
Most Popular Manual Vehicles at CarMax
To understand what types of manual cars customers purchase most, we looked at the most popular vehicle types, makes, and models. From January 2020 through December 2022, 54% of customers purchasing a stick shift bought a sedan or coupe, 31% bought a sports car, and 10% purchased an SUV.
In comparison during the same time period, 43% of customers buying an automatic bought an SUV, 34% bought a sedan or coupe, and 9% bought a luxury vehicle. Note that the luxury vehicles category includes both sedans and SUVs.
When it comes to sports cars, the data shows customers prefer manuals. Nearly one third (31%) of all manuals purchased during this time period were sports cars, while automatics made up just 2% of sports car sales during the same period.
This list below shows the top ten most popular manual cars at CarMax based on sales data from January 2020 through December 2022.
The Honda Civic ranks in the number one spot, followed by the Ford Mustang, Subaru WRX, Jeep Wrangler, and the Chevrolet Camaro.
Even in the top 10 we see a wide split in car types. Of the top ten, half are considered sports cars, the Jeep Wrangler is known for its off-road capability, and the others are your practical daily drivers.
Popularity of Manuals by State
Around the nation at our 240+ stores, the top states for manual sales were split between the western United States and the Northeast. New Mexico was in the lead, followed by Oregon, Washington, New York, and Connecticut.
On the other end of the spectrum, the states with the fewest manual sales at CarMax from January 2020 through December 2022 were Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Wisconsin, and Georgia. These five states were also on the list of states with the least manual sales in our last reporting (September 2019 – August 2020).
The manual car has declined in popularity since 1995, but the last two years have shown an uptick in manual sales at CarMax. Is this an isolated trend or will we see it continue as manuals become increasingly rare on the new car market?
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