It seems shifting a manual transmission is almost redundant.
It seems shifting a manual transmission is almost redundant. chiewr

Blue collar bastardry - even new tradies can't drive

TRADIES are often too busy to meet appointments, and the same applies to swapping cogs.

Australia's growing trend toward automatics has flowed into the burly blue collar ute world, where manual vehicles are soon expected to become harder to find than striped paint.

Among the key issues dictating the move is apprentices. Young people are often getting automatic-only licences, which causes issues at the job site when the apprentice is unable to handle a stick shift.

Being able to handle a pie and get to the next job is also pivotal.

Many utes are now being used as family machines, boasting comfort and convenience of a modern SUV or passenger car, yet the evolution has some gobsmacked by Australia's poor driving dexterity.

Nissan has just updated its Navara ute, where up to 75% of product this year has been sold with automatic transmissions. Some of the workhorse models now include autos to answer demand.

"In small to medium enterprises where it is a tool of trade, not a lot of kids are getting manual licences any more,” Nissan Australia boss Richard Emery said.

"You've got three guys sharing a car and the 20-year-old can't drive a manual. It is surprisingly a factor coming through over the past three, four or five years.”

More than a decade ago, Toyota used to sell manuals in 78% of 4x2 and 75% of 4x4s.

Last year was the first time an automatic transmission accounted for more than half of all HiLux sales. The HiLux was also Australia's most popular vehicle in 2016.

Figures from Toyota last year saw 65% of workhorses in the 4x2 realm. But with the 4x4s, where the top-spec SR5 (from $54,390) proves remarkably popular, the share of manual falls to 37%.

Buyers of Australia's second most popular ute also suffer from three-pedal aversion. Automatics dominate both 4x2 and 4x4 Ford Rangers.

From all Ranger models last year, just below 80% were autos. That's up from 75% in 2015.

Ritchie Duce's prized Ford FG XR6 Ute is armed with a six-speed manual transmission.
Ritchie Duce's prized Ford FG XR6 Ute is armed with a six-speed manual transmission. Ritchie Duce

When it came time for photographer and motoring enthusiast Ritchie Duce to buy a ute there was no question. He hunted down a manual version of the 2010 Ford XR6.

He came from a car family where his dad was a mechanic. While accepting the automatic revolution has taken hold, Ritchie reckons being unable to drive a manual is un-Australian.

"When I was young if I said I was going to buy an automatic I would have been kicked out of the house,” he said.

"Both (manual and automatic) have a place. There are times when I am driving mine, especially in traffic on the Bruce Highway, I wish I had an auto.

"But then there are other times you are manually selecting gears and you feel more in control.

"If you are a car guy or girl, you like to have all those sensations as a driver as opposed to just putting it in D.

"People want the ease of getting into a car and not having to think about anything other than where they are going.”

Vital statistics

  • The Toyota HiLux was Australia's most popular vehicle in 2016.
  • Last year was the first time an automatic transmission accounted for more than half of all HiLux sales: the ratio of auto to manual was 56:44.
  • By comparison to 2006, manual was 78% of 4x2 sales and 75% of 4x4 sales.
  • In the Ford Ranger, automatics account for nearly 80% of sales in both 4x2 and 4x4 variants.

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