A 72-mile commute from Knob Noster, Mo., to Independence to work might appear a bit aggravating. For Dennis Wike, it is pure driving bliss.
Each work day, Wike gets behind the wheel of his 2012 Dodge Challenger and heads to Landmark Dodge Chrysler at 1900 S. Noland Road in Independence.
Wike is not like the majority of drivers today who own an automatic, where you put the car in drive and go. Wike’s Challenger is a manual. He loves shifting gears as he drives from one destination to another.
“You find different routes to go home like those country roads with the dips and the turns,” said Wike, a new car salesman at Landmark. “With a manual it makes it a lot more fun.
“When I am driving my manual, I listen to the car. A lot of people get in a car and the main reason is to get them from point A to point B. When you are driving a manual, you are going from point A to point B, but sometimes I take alternate routes.”
For cars like the Challenger, the manual version right now is more popular than the automatic. At Landmark, Wike said, the manual models sell almost as soon as they arrive at the dealership.
Since the start of 2015, Wike has sold 10 manual Challengers, and overall, he figures, 30 manual Challengers have been sold.
“When we get a manual and it hits our website, we get phone calls and email inquiries almost instantaneously,” Wike said. They are in demand. Manuals are hot right now.
“The automatic for an entry-level Challenger is for someone who is not comfortable with the clutch.”
The demographics on the Challenger indicate that it is popular with drivers in their 40s and 50s, Wike said.
“I actually sold a manual Challenger to a 70-year-old retired school teacher,” he said.
There are various models of vehicles at Landmark that offer a manual, from the Jeep Wrangler to the RAM truck to a midsize Dodge Dart sedan.
“Younger people are coming in mainly for the Dart, not just because the price of them,” Wike said. “You can drive a Dart automatic and you can drive a Dart manual and the Dart manual has a sportier feel to it.
“I learned how to drive on a manual in the hills of Pennsylvania. I guess their parents are thinking the same as me. If you can drive a manual, you can pretty much drive anything.”
That is the thinking of Katherine Hellige, who grew up in Johnson County and learned how to drive a manual from her father. At first, she didn’t enjoy learning on a manual. Now, she plans to teach her daughter how to drive one.
“It makes me feel confident driving,” said Hellige, who drives a Ford Fiesta. “I also feel much more focused when I am driving. You have to use both hands and both feet. I feel I am more respectful of the driving process. I feel much more in tune with the car with what the engine sounds like and how it is behaving.
“I think people who drive sticks have a better understanding and respect for driving.”
Usually, people who buy sports cars like a Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Corvette or a Mazda Miata prefer a manual.
“With the manual, it gives it a more sporty drive,” said Richard Brennaman, who works on the sales team at Overland Park Mazda, 7801 Metcalf Ave. “You are in complete control of the vehicle. So a lot of people who come in looking for the manual are looking for that sporty feel.”
Brennaman has found that younger men are interested in manual vehicles. To emphasize his point, he turned to co-worker Patrick Kane. Kane is 25 and owns a manual Mazda2.
“My first couple of cars were manuals,” Kane said. “I like the way it handles. It is much more fun to drive.”
Brennaman admits that manual transmission is a niche market. But it appears it is one that is growing.
According to a USA Today study three years ago, manual-equipped cars accounted for 6.5 percent of all new car sales during the first quarter of 2012. That was nearly double the sales rate for manuals in 2011, and the highest figure since manuals accounted for 7.2 percent of car purchases in 2006.
“The kids who are coming in who want a manual Dart, they know it is sportier,” Wike said. “It is not a humdrum car. It is a six-speed manual you can shift. They are just fun to drive.”
And for those who have a few more dollars to spend, the Dodge Challenger Hellcat is the way to go, said Wike.
“The way I describe it to my customers is if you get a chance to get a Hellcat or a (Dodge Challenger) 392 Hemi Shaker, which is a very rare car, you are getting a piece of automotive history,” Wike said.
“A lot of people don’t have the opportunity to drop $80,000 to $90,000 on one of those cars. But they can get into a 2015 Challenger and have an awesome car.”
On a personal level, Wike enjoys the looks his car receives sometimes when he pulls into a store.
“It is a very good looking car, very unique and it has a 1971 retro look to it,” Wike said.