Automatic gearboxes are becoming more popular, but do they always stack up as the best choice on a new car?
There’s a clear upward trend in the popularity of automatic gearboxes in new car registrations, driven by a variety of factors.
In years past, an automatic transmission used to be less efficient than a manual, but in many cases these days that scenario has been reversed.
The rise of electric and hybrid vehicles and increased demand for premium brands and SUVs have also all pushed the percentage of new cars with automatic gearboxes to a new high year after year. In 2008, 78.7% of new vehicles registered were manuals, but according to automotive data specialist Cap HPI that figure has dropped to a shade over half so far in 2019.
And this drop applies to more than just larger cars, with Cap claiming that values of auto versions of city cars including the Hyundai i10, Suzuki Celerio, Toyota Aygo and Vauxhall Viva have all recently fared better than their manual siblings.
“Automatic transmission variants generally have a premium over equivalent models that feature a manual transmission,” says Darren Martin, Cap HPI’s head of UK valuations.
“Relative desirability is very much dependent on a sector and brand. Automatics from premium brands are generally the most desirable, although other brands are rapidly catching up with improvements in their transmissions.”
Although automatic transmissions are proving to be increasingly popular, and enjoy a retained-value advantage over their manual counterparts, the higher purchase price still means they will cost businesses more, while there are big efficiency differences between the manufacturers’ auto technologies.
For example, a Seat Arona 1.0 TSI 115 FR costs £1080 more for the DSG automatic. However, according to KwikCarcost the DSG transmission will be worth an extra £375 after three years and 60,000 miles, which still makes it £705 more expensive.
Meanwhile, a Mercedes-Benz C180d AMG Line auto costs £1600 more than the manual, and will be worth £575 more at defleet time, making it more than £1000 more expensive.
And the efficiency point is summed up by the examples of a VW Polo 1.0 TSI 95 being 4.8mpg less efficient as an auto, while a Nissan Qashqai 1.5dCi 115 is 0.4mpg more efficient in two-pedal form.
The key point is that not to automatically assume that the sums are the same for each model, and some are easier to justify the higher purchase price, through both efficiency and retained value, than others.
LCV LIGHT OFF FOR AUTOS
It has been a much slower rise, but automatic transmissions are finally starting to build a base in the light commercial vehicle sector, with Cap HPI putting the figures at 11.0% of sales in 2018 compared with 2.6% in 2010.
“Manufacturers have overcome the reliability issues surrounding the fitment of semi-automatic and automatic gearboxes by specifically designing ones to withstand the arduous use that a commercial vehicle is put through,” said Cap’s senior editor of commercial vehicles, Steve Botfield. “With little effect to the miles per gallon, the only downside is the additional purchase price, which on a 3.5t van can be in excess of £1000.”
AUTOMATIC FOR THE PEOPLE
Stuart Pearson, BCA’s COO UK Remarketing shares some auction house wisdom on the level of demand for automatic vehicles:
1. Executive expectation
Generally automatic gearboxes are preferred on executive-level cars, with buyers expecting an auto as part of the overall package. Flexible gearing systems that can be adjusted by the driver to reflect the driving conditions are also seen as very desirable by buyers.
2. Higher price – then and now
In terms of price performance, cars with an automatic transmission will typically achieve higher average values in the auction hall than the equivalent manual version on a like-for-like basis, but this generally reflects their higher purchase cost in the first place.
3. Efficiency boost is also a boost to sales
From the motorists’ perspective, running costs remain an important factor, and many automatic gearboxes now operate as efficiently as manual gearboxes. Indeed, in some cases an auto is more efficient. Professional buyers know they will have a ready audience ready to purchase a well-specified upper-medium or executive car with an auto box.
4. Don’t automatically think big
Small automatics such as city cars, superminis and small hatchbacks are quite scarce in the wholesale arena, and are therefore desirable for trade buyers because there will be a steady demand for the few models that do reach the market.
5. Vans in on the auto act
LCVs with automatic transmissions are uncommon, but more examples are reaching the market in the late-plate sector. Older examples will find a ready audience, providing overall condition is good and there is a reasonably comprehensive service history to show that the vehicle has been well maintained.