I pondered the question above when I recently decided to buy a simple car with a manual transmission. Basic safety equipment was a must for me (ABS and stability control at the very minimum), so the manual Perodua Bezza and Axia and Proton Saga were immediately out of the question, as they were all only available in base spec – no ESP on the Bezza and Saga, and not even ABS on the driving school-spec Axia.

That left just the Proton Iriz and Persona and the Perodua Myvi as the three entry-level options for those looking specifically for manual cars. I ended up buying the Iriz because it was cheap and it had a good track record as far as safety was concerned.

It was an easy choice, but it was also disappointing that there weren’t more options on the market. Manual cars are usually driven by either a) new/young drivers with cheap starter cars bought by their parents, or b) old drivers who insist on a manual because that’s what they are used to – and refuse to make the switch to an automatic gearbox.

If you’re buying a car for either of these drivers, you’d want to give them at least the bare minimum of safety features that I’ve mentioned, so it’s baffling that the options are so limited. It’s these people who are the last bastion of the manual gearbox, not “car enthusiasts” who like shifting their own gears – the latter are a dying breed, and clearly there weren’t that many of them to begin with.

This move towards offering fewer and fewer manual variants is fairly new. The Axia’s manual gearbox used to be offered up to SE spec at its initial launch in 2014, but it’s now only available on the base-spec E as of the latest 2019 facelift. It’s the same story with Bezza – buyers could previously opt for the MT for everything up to the penultimate 1.3 Premium X spec, but now only the 1.0 Standard G has it.

As for the Myvi, the previous generation was available with a manual up to the 1.5 SE, but since the latest model was introduced in 2017, you could only get it with the 1.3 Standard G. Demand for a do-it-yourself transmission is so low that even the holdouts at Proton have followed suit.

The Saga and Persona were both offered with an Executive MT up until 2016, but since then the manual is only offered on the base Standard. The Iriz is even more extreme – the hatchback was launched with a manual option on every single engine and variant, including the top 1.6 Premium. Now it’s only on the 1.3 Standard that I bought.

Why the reduction? Because too few people bought the manuals, as simple as that. Demand for higher-spec or bigger-engined variants with a manual was nearly non-existent, so much so that it just didn’t make economic sense for both brands to offer them anymore.

The “enthusiasts” who were always clamouring for higher-spec/bigger-engined manuals evidently didn’t buy enough of them. “If got manual, I sure buy!” was often said, but rarely ever executed. Many were proud to make this claim, but when the time came to put their money where their mouth was, most shied away.

The Iriz 1.6 Premium MT was a prime example – it’s rumoured that only a single batch of between 400-500 units was ever produced, and even that took a while to sell out. No further demand to restart production either. It’s the same with Perodua, hence the move to stop making such variants.

Now, manuals are there solely to drop the starting price of the model ranges, and to continue serving the tiny demand that is getting smaller by the day. The Perodua Aruz isn’t even offered with an MT, and Toyota stopped selling the Vios J manual with the launch of the newest model last year. And while the Nissan Almera manual is still on sale, don’t count on it surviving when the 2020 model comes in. The manual Kia Picanto was recently killed off too.

But exactly how low is the demand for manual gearboxes here? I reached out to Proton, and it said that in 2019, only five percent of all Sagas, three percent of Irizes and two percent of Personas sold were equipped with a manual gearbox. To put that into perspective fewer than 2,700 of the over 67,000 units of the Saga, Iriz and Persona had stick shifts. That’s less than four percent combined!

Perodua declined to give their breakdown, but expect it to be just as dire as Proton’s, if not worse. Back in 2016, it did announce that out of the first 25,000 bookings for the Bezza, only four percent were manuals. Since then, it has dropped the Bezza 1.3 MT, so clearly the low demand has continued since.

Now, you can’t say that the manual numbers are low now because they’re only offered on the base variants. “If got high spec manual, I’d go book one right now!” Again, often said but not followed through, because such variants were once offered, but met with minuscule response.

The same goes for more expensive and even enthusiast-level cars in Malaysia too. One only needs to look at the Mazda MX-5. At launch, plenty of so-called car enthusiasts claimed that if Bermaz ever brought in the manual, they’d be lining up to put down their hard-earned cash for one. Once Bermaz actually did do that with the MX-5 RF, that line never resulted in actual sales. In fact, the manual launch unit was on display at the flagship Glenmarie showroom, unsold, for years since then. It’s probably still there right now!

So there you go. Numbers do not lie. No car brand will stop offering them if the demand is there. By now it’s proven that there isn’t any left, so don’t blame them if they’re no longer making such options available.

The manual transmission is only dying in Malaysia because we are letting it die. It’s a shame, sure, but again, those who keep complaining of it are equally to blame – if enough of you had followed through, maybe we wouldn’t be in this situation now.

What do you think?

P.S. The paultan.org crew owns no less than 12 manual cars at the time of writing, with quite a few more in the past. Just in case you’re wondering ;)