The light car or city car segment has traditionally been important for manufacturers to offer cheap manual versions of their most affordable models to get buyers through their showroom doors. And while manuals still play their part, buyers aren't being coaxed into doing the shift-work themselves to save a couple of bucks.
In 2016 one of the biggest-selling light cars on the market, the Hyundai Accent, saw just 13 per cent of all sales being manual models - meaning that for the year-to-date period to the end of November, of more than 17,000 Accents sold, only 2250 or so were manual. Hyundai puts that down to its aggressive drive-away pricing, with auto models attracting just a $1000 premium during deal time. The usual premium is two grand.
The Mazda 2, which has a bigger model range than the Accent, has seen a slightly higher mix of manual models this year, with 19 per cent of 2 models sold being of the self-shift variety.
Suzuki Australia (excluding Queensland) has seen just 10 per cent of all light cars sold with a manual transmission - so nine out of every 10 examples of the 700-plus Celerio, 1100-plus Baleno and 7700-odd Swift models sold to the end of November 2016 had automatic transmissions instead of stick-shifts. It's not hard to see why, with Swift being run out from less than $15,000 with an auto 'box.
Year-to-date in 2016, Honda's manual-equipped City and Jazz models made up only 15 per cent of sales. But Honda is keen to point out that it only offers a manual gearbox in its cheapest variants, which could affect the figures somewhat.
"It may be worth noting is that a manual transmission is only available on VTi variants of both City and Jazz - VTi-S (Jazz) and VTi-L (City & Jazz) are only available with an automatic transmission - so that does skew the data slightly when viewed purely from a total light segment standpoint, as manual is not available across the full light model line-up," said Honda Australia public relations assistant manager Justin Lacy.
"When viewed as a percentage of total VTi grade sales - which is around 65 per cent of total light car sales - manual is around 20 per cent of the mix," he said.
Holden launched its Spark light car in Australia earlier this year, and while it offers a manual version of its entry-level LS version, the high-spec LT has only an automatic gearbox available. Buyers are likely to be persuaded into an auto, given that the LS manual is being promoted at $14,990 drive-away, while at the time of writing the LS auto was priced at $16,690 drive-away. You'd still be best off to aim for an LT auto for that sort of money...
There are brands out there that are shunning manual transmission options for their smallest car offerings altogether. In 2016, Kia introduced the Picanto to Australia in the twilight of that model's life-cycle, but it did so with only an automatic gearbox because that's what buyers wanted.
“We believe that everything about the Picanto ticks a box that needs ticking," said Kia Australia chief operations officer Damien Meredith at the launch of the Picanto. With an all-new model due here in 2017, Meredith has since indicated a manual version could be offered, if only to grab peoples' attention with a sharp low price.
Kia buyers do love an automatic transmission - the brand even forced to drop one of its best cars, perhaps its best ever, the Pro_cee'd GT, because even as a sporty car the lack of an automatic gearbox just didn't cut it with buyers.
Then there are other brands - such as MG - which has launched locally with only a manual version of its cheapest model, the MG 3. Let's hope there's an auto on its way, as that car needs all the help it can get.