The 2021 Chevy Spark Is Home to a Dying Feature

Chevrolet struggled in the first quarter of 2020 due to COVID-19 woes. However, there were two bright spots among its 2020 line of cars. In spite of a less-than-favorable critique from Consumer Reports, one of Chevy’s cars that produced first-quarter sales was the Chevy Spark.

Looking at the production of 2021 cars, Chevrolet looks to the Spark to spur on its slumping car sales. Whether for purposes of simplicity or reliability, continuing to include a manual transmission in the 2021 Spark is something of a surprise.

Manual transmissions are available in only a few models in 2021

As automatic transmission performance, reliability, and cost of production have improved drastically over the past couple of decades, manual transmissions have all but disappeared among the vast majority of available models. 30 years ago, 35 percent of automobiles offered included a manual transmission as a standard feature.

In 2021, this feature is offered on only 1.2 percent of the automobiles produced, sounding the death toll for the manual transmission. MotorTrend notes that only eleven automakers, building 17 models that dare to offer manual transmissions for American buyers to choose from.

Manual transmission offerings make a minuscule dent in the overall automobile market. Standing out in this rather small crowd is the 2021 Chevy Spark. More surprising than Chevrolet continuing to include a manual transmission as part of the Spark’s base package is the fact that it comes as a standard feature on all the 2021 Spark’s trim levels. Is this dying feature an indication of a deteriorating future for this Chevy model?

What is the reasoning behind the manual transmission in the 2021 Chevy Spark?

A manual transmission on a Mustang or a Porsche still makes some sense. Crunching gears when you have horsepower is part of sports car glamour, but it seems a bit strange to crunch gears with a meager 98 hp under the hood. So, why would Chevrolet continue to insist on equipping the Spark with a dying feature?

The argument for manual transmissions back in 2015 revolved around fuel economy. The testing of cars from that model year showed that cars with manual transmissions had a slightly higher estimated mpg than had same class competitors with automatic transmissions.

In October of 2019, Edmunds demonstrated that the fuel economy defense was no longer valid as the 2020 Chevrolet Camaro, equipped with an automatic transmission beat its manual transmission twin with a fuel economy of 25 mpg over 23 mpg. In addition, automobiles with automatic transmissions are less expensive than their manual transmission counterparts.

The only argument for including a manual transmission on the 2021 Chevy Spark is the lower maintenance cost of a manual transmission over an automatic transmission. Is the lower maintenance cost argument sufficient reason to offer the Spark with a manual transmission?

Is the manual transmission on the 2021 Chevy Spark an omen?

Visitors look at Chevrolet's next generation Spark car during a press preview of the Seoul Motor Show
The Chevy Spark | JUNG YEON-JE/AFP via Getty Images

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The development of CVT transmissions and the improvements to automatic transmissions have all but eliminated the demand for a manual transmission among the majority of 2021 automobile offerings. In spite of the fact that the Spark was Chevrolet’s leading seller during the first quarter of 2020, offering this dying feature on the 2021 Chevy Spark, which gives it no real advantage over its competitors seems like a grave error by the carmaker.

Is offering a manual transmission on the Spark an omen? Perhaps Chevrolet is unloading all of its manual transmissions in the 2021 Spark in order to eliminate their inventory, but doing so could also indicate that the Spark’s run is coming to an end.