In the modern age, people are increasingly coming to terms with the reality that people are not that different. Whatever your race, color, or creed we are all human beings and at the base of that we all have the same emotional drivers. We are all people. However, when you look at trends around the world you can’t help but notice that there are some strange cultural differences that persist year after year that the ordinary person struggles to explain. One of the most interesting differences is in driving. In America, the majority of cars are purchased as automatic while in Europe the majority of cars are manual transmission. How did this difference come to exist in the first place and why does it persist?
I was born and grew up in Europe. Until I was about twenty-two years old I had never seen an automatic car and didn’t actually know what it was. My only indication that a different type of car existed was watching American movies where some teenagers would try to steal their parents’ car and shout “ah! I can’t drive stick, what do we do” and they would proceed to kill the clutch of that car. It is estimated that over 96% of cars on the roads in America today have automatic transmission. If we look at Europe and Japan the figure is almost the opposite with over 80% of cars having a manual transmission.
In Europe, driving is a right of passage. It is something that most teenagers start at the age of 15 or 16 and are desperate to learn quickly to gain some independence. Clutch control is likely the most difficult part to learn about driving and overcoming this barrier is a huge milestone in being able to drive. Once this is achieved there is a certain sense of pride associated with being able to drive that doesn’t exist in the automatic world. This means that even years later when it comes to choosing a car, Europeans like to opt for manual transmissions as they are proud of their ability to use them.
Americans on the other hand appear to favor convenience above all else. Many Americans say that they like to multitask while driving and that it is easier when you use automatic. While driving while using your phone is a terrible idea and is proven to cause many accidents it is certainly more easily done with automatic and is increasingly done by both Americans and Europeans.
While the markets and people are two driving factors that are causing these differences to persist, the biggest reason is probably just how different Europe and America are to drive in. America is full of long straight roads but in the cities, there are many stop signs. This means that on the open road you have little use for a manual transmission and in the cities, you are stopping often meaning a manual transmission is a bit of a nuisance.
In Europe, it is the opposite. There are far more roundabouts than in other parts of the world and the roads are typically more narrow, winding, and hilly. Having the ability to change gears as you see fit allows you to manage these roads more easily.
It appears that the differences will not change anytime soon. An automatic transmission is becoming more popular in Europe but it is likely that driverless cars are a present reality before Europeans give in to the allure of automatic transmission. In America, while a few car lovers stick to the manual transmission most people will never see the need to learn automatic.