#SaveTheManuals: A Valiant Effort All For Not

The age of the manual transmission is coming to a close. With automatics dominating the auto market, auto-shift and paddle shifters replacing the traditional manual, hard core car enthusiasts will have to either buy an older car or hope an auto manufacturer specifically targets to a dwindling market. As of right now, manuals make up about 6-10% market share, leaving the other 90-94% to being automatics or non traditional manuals that allow the driver to switch from manual to automatic when he/she so chooses. Last month, Acura announced that the only car in their lineup that will have a manual transition will be the ILX, which hasn’t generated great sales for the Honda-owned car brand.

When Ferrari, Lamborghini, and McLaren have paddle shifters on their models, you know we’re entering into a new era of cars. People have given many reasons as to why this phenomenon is happening. Some say it’s because the infotainment systems in cars require too much attention from the driver, so manually shifting become a second thought. Others say it’s because automatics have become just as fuel efficient as manuals, and due to the computer systems in cars now, the car can shift just as good, if not better than a human. But I personally believe that automatics are more convenient. Isn’t that where our culture is heading? Convenience?

A 16 year old who is learning how to drive, or just got his/her license can just get behind the wheel, put the key in the ignition, and drive off to their destination. There is no energy required, no secondary action needed while driving, and with the cars that are being produced today, a person driving an automatic can fully enjoy their vehicle just the same as owners of manuals.

Let’s also remember that auto manufacturers are companies. They’re following the money, and that trail does not lead to a large market for manuals. Six to ten percent isn’t a huge chunk of the market. In the last 35 years, we’ve seen a 25% drop in demand for the traditional manual, which means less money is going to that market. For these companies to survive they need to follow the money. This is the same reason that every car brand is entering the crossover market. Porsche manufacturing two SUV’s and a four door, and Ford bringing the Focus RS to America to compete with the likes of the Subaru STI and the Volkswagen GTI, is another example of car brands getting into a market that is making money.

We’re seeing a massive change and shift in the automotive world. Because of these changes, transmissions, infotainment systems, and other components have been updated to appeal to a broader market. Unless consumers start buying manuals, the days of the traditional stick shift will be over. It’s been a valiant effort, but it might be all for not.

Will The Ford Focus RS Bring Performance Packages To Cheaper Vehicles?

The Ford Focus RS is no doubt a game changer in the auto industry. For the first time, Ford is bringing their performance packaged Focus RS to the United States, which has also raised the question of whether we’ll see an RS version of the Fiesta. By doing this however, Ford would be awakening some sleeping giants in the auto world who are waiting for their moment to break free and start offering performance vehicles to the average consumer. This could also have an impact on Subaru’s turf as the WRX STI hasn’t had many challengers, if any since the Mitsubishi Lancer’s steep decent into irrelevancy. This may also eventually reach Volkswagen’s stake in the hatchback market if other car companies start following suit.

Toyota is already mulling over the idea of unleashing the TRD performance packages for the Camry, and one could then speculate on whether the Toyota Corolla will get the same treatment. For the past few years Ford has been going at it with Toyota and Honda to become the top dog in annual sales, and with the RS line, it’s very possible that consumers may start looking to performance. Toyota already realizes this, and are at least looking into getting in on the action.

Prior to the Focus RS’s unveiling, the Subaru WRX STI and the Volkswagen GTI were sitting comfortably in their respective markets. The GTI has always been the favorite for hatchbacks and are extremely popular, even with the Focus ST being priced in the same neighborhood. Now with an AWD Focus, Ford has some leverage to entice consumers to look at other options besides the GTI. The Subaru WRX STI on the other hand will be harder to dethrone, as car manufactures who’ve tried to compete with Subaru ultimately failed, and it will take some time for Ford to convince consumers in that market to make the switch.

In the past year or so, we’ve seen almost every car manufacturer get in on a new, emerging market. BMW and Mercedes Benz are now duking it out with the X6 and GLE in a market that could be gaining some traction. Right now it seems that performance packaged hatchbacks and compact sedans could become the latest trend in the automotive world. What we’re witnessing is an intensity in competition between automakers that really hasn’t been seen since the dawn of the muscle car. In the past, car companies would be unique and try selling based on a feature or design that no one else could offer. Now it appears that to stay alive, auto brands are continuously attempting to improve an existing design.

Up until recently, no one tried to advance on the WRX STI and the GTI’s turf, but with Ford making the bold move to bring a version of the Focus that was being sold outside the United States to America, we may see other car brands do the same. Honda will not be bringing over the Civic Type R until at least 2017, but you can believe that if Toyota starts selling TRD packaged Camry’s and Corolla’s, Honda will start feeling the pressure to sell a quality performance car.

Consumers are going to have variety in almost every market. Now it comes down to personal preference. The diehard GTI and WRX STI fans will be reluctant to switch to a different brand, but for Millennials who are starting to buy cars, they may look to new brands, and etch their own buying habits in stone.

Making A Case For The Kia Forte Hatchback

Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of getting a good long look at the redesigned Kia Forte5 SX. Needless to say, it left a lasting impression. The hatchback market is extremely competitive with the Volkswagen Golf and GTI leading the way, Ford bringing their Focus RS over to the United States, the Fiesta’s dominance in the compact hatchback market, the fresh design of the Mazda3 which is turning heads, and Hyundai’s Elantra GT. Where does Kia’s Forte fit in, and can it hold it’s own against the competitors?

The Forte hatchback comes with two trims: The EX and SX. For performance, you would most definitely want to go with the SX, which is turbocharged, packing 201 HP. Unfortunately to get all the bells and whistles, which includes front and rear heated seats, you’re looking at spending $28,000, but it’s worth it. A sporty interior that will grasp the attentions of young millennials and will certainly get them noticed. A spacious interior that has more cargo volume than the Golf and GTI will make it easy for college students to move in and out of dorms, while also making room for passengers when it’s a late night on the town.

The EX on the other hand is more practical, getting much better gas mileage (25 MPG in the city, 33 MPG on the highway), but not lacking in power. With a 2.0L engine, you’ll still get 173 hp, 0-60 in 7.5 seconds (only two tenths of a second slower than the GTI). With a base price of $19,960, it’s much more reasonable, but if you’re looking for leather interior and other comforts, the price could hover around $25,000.

The Kia Forte is definitely a car worth looking at getting if you don’t want a Golf or GTI. While you’re not getting the fastest hatchback with the SX, you’re still getting a turbocharged engine, cargo space, a sporty interior, and a car that will turn heads. It’s the kind of car you want to get if you want to be different and not buy a car your friend owns.

If you’re a fan of Top Gear UK, you’ve probably already seen the Forte make it through a grueling challenge of rugby. The car is no doubt durable, and even for Top Gear, was an eye opener. The Forte is by far one of the most impressive cars I’ve seen in the hatchback market. I wasn’t expecting to see premium features such as backup assist, heated seats, navigation system, leather seats, and sunroof from a car that’s been flying under the radar for so long.

As someone who goes against the trend and leans more towards something different, the Kia Forte5 would certainly be in the top 5 cars under $25,000 I’d choose as a daily driver.