The age of the automatic: Last person to take a manual driving test could be born in five years' time
- 2027 could see the last person born that will take their driving test in a manual gearbox car
- Share of driving tests taken in an automatic gearbox car rose to 42 per cent of all driving tests in 2020/21
- 2020/21 saw new automatic cars outsell manual equivalents for first time
The UK is heading towards an age of automatic cars, brought forward by the upcoming ban on petrol and diesel engines, with new analysis from Direct Line Motor Insurance1 suggesting the last person to take their driving test in a manual car could be born in just five years’ time.
In 2030 the ban on the sale of new combustion engine cars will see petrol and diesel vehicles phased out and replaced by electric models that do not require a clutch. This will see a rapid shift to automatic cars, with Direct Line’s analysis suggesting that the transition is already well underway. With the average lifespan of a car around 14 years2, the last new combustion engine cars sold in 2029 will likely be scrapped by 2043, meaning that the last 17-year-olds learning to drive in a manual gearbox car will be born at some point during 2027.
Analysis shows that motorists are already starting to shift to an automatic world, away from a manual transmission, with fewer and fewer people taking their driving test in a car with a clutch and stick shift gearbox1.1. Research shows the share of tests taken in an automatic vehicle rose to 42 per cent of all driving tests in 2020/21. More than half of the 2.2 million people who learnt to drive in an automatic car (55 per cent or 1.2 million) are aged under 35, highlighting the shift away from manual cars in recent years.
Currently, manual cars still account for 70 per cent of the 31.7 million cars on UK’s roads1.2. However, last year over half (54 per cent) of new cars sold in Britain were automatic, compared to around 20 per cent a decade ago.
Further research by Direct Line3 reveals that the rise in electric cars, accelerating the shift to an automatic age of driving, is being spearheaded by younger people. Half of all electric vehicles currently on the road are owned by people aged under 35, with these cars accounting for 41 per cent of all automatic cars driven by this age group, compared to just 13 per cent of those aged 35 or over.
Looking ahead, 8.6 million motorists (22 per cent) expect to switch to an electric vehicle by 2030, due to the phasing out of the sale of new petrol and diesel cars. Around 11.4 million motorists (29 per cent) expect to switch following the ban, probably in line with whenever they need to replace their existing car.
Key dates as UK motorists approach the Age of Auto4
New automatic cars outsell new manual cars for the first time
The last person to learn how to drive in a manual car is born
The last new manual cars are sold
The UK enters the Age of Auto: almost every car on the road is automatic as the last manual cars reach the end of their lifespan
Source: Direct Line Motor Insurance, 2022
Ian Exworth, Director of Emerging Markets at Direct Line commented: “There is no doubt that the ban on petrol and diesel cars will change the face of motoring in the UK, and one significant side effect of this is a rise in automatic cars. With a hard deadline in place, it is no surprise to see that motorists are already shifting their habits, with more people opting to learn in an automatic and moving away from manual gearboxes.
“The idea of switching from a manual car may be daunting, and nearly three fifths of motorists do not feel entirely confident about switching to automatic. But with eight years to go until the ban comes into effect; we’d encourage motorists to keep an open mind and explore their options when choosing a new car. The change from manual to automatic, and then on to electric, may not be as drastic as people think.”
Notes to Editors
1 Direct Line Group analysis of a number of data sources, including:
1.1 Practical car test rates for automatic (DVSA1206) and manual (DVSA0201) cars, published by the DVSA
1.2 Licensed cars by propulsion and fuel type, United Kingdom (VEH0203) published by the Department for Transport
1.3 New car sales by gearbox type published by the International Council on Clean Transportation in the European Vehicle Market Statistics Pocketbook 2020/21
Figures for the period 2010/11 to 2020/21 analysed and projections for the period 2021/22 to 2045/46 made based on conservative annual growth rates.
2 Data on average age of a car at scrappage taken from the SMMT 2021 Automotive Sustainability Report
3 Consumer omnibus survey conducted by Opinium between 18th and 22nd February among a sample of 2,000 UK adults, of which 82 per cent had a driving licence and 19 per cent already drive an automatic car
4 Timelines based on assumed introduction of ban on petrol and diesel vehicles commencing on 1st January 2030 and the first person to learn to drive after the last of these vehicles is retired being born on 1st January 2027 and turning 17 the day after the retirement of the last petrol and diesel car (31st December 2043)
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