Why are manual transmissions more popular in the UK and other countries?
Due to fuel costs and road size smaller cars are the norm.
Until recently automatics were not great on fuel and added a big chunk of change to the cost of the car.
Since most European drivers learn on a manual and get a manual license (yes it is different here) then driving a manual. Is normal.
With the rise of hybrid cars and electric cars automatics are going to become more common.
New automatics are excellent.
It is a historical thing.
In traffic manuals are no fun. The left leg gets a major workout.
Interestingly many new big trucks are automatic here in Europe.
I have family in Mexico and automatic transmissions are rather unpopular there.
In Mexico automatic transmissions have a stigma as being unreliable and expensive to maintain/repair, and manual transmissions are seen as indestructible, cheap, no need to maintain, and the only thing that require repair is the clutch. Also manual transmissions are seen as economical when it comes to fuel mileage, and automatics are seen as gas guzzlers.
I live in the U.S., and I drive mostly automatics, I have one car that's a manual. I specifically wanted sports car with a manual because, as Dave suggested earlier, automatic is kinda boring.
But my primary vehicle, and what I use for towing, all automatics, and they get decent mileage. That's probably because compared to automatic transmissions of old, modern automatics now have torque converter clutches that offer true 1:1 lockup much like a manual transmission. Some automatics even partially engage the clutch when operating below highway speeds so that the effect can be had even when driving in the city. Plus many manufacturers are now using low viscosity fluid, and low mass rotational components to make the transmission more economical. Automatics are now nearly on par with their manual cousins. I've only had one automatic transmission that made it less than 150k miles, and that was was due to driver error (it was my fault, sprung a leak and drove it without fluid). Now that I use a transmission cooler they tend to last well past 200k miles, even when towing. As far as maintaining, I just change the fluid every 100k miles, I'm using a full synthetic fluid licensed by GM as Dex VI. So while I'm using expensive fluid, $10 a quart, 16 quarts, that's $160 in fluid, but I change it every 100k miles, so it's not that expensive when you consider the service interval.
As far as expensive to repair, it is if you pay to have your transmission rebuilt, but rebuilding yourself isn't that bad. I rebuilt the one that I ruined, $100 for a junk transmission, $160 in fluid, and $350 in parts, and my total cost was a tad bit over $600 to rebuild. The reason why I purchased a junk transmission to rebuild was because I was still driving my car (albeit poorly) and wanted to take my time with the rebuild. When it was finished I just did the swap in a day. Driving it now.
My opinion is that automatics rival the manuals in the fuel economy, maintenance, and reliability, when it comes to repair, autos are a bit more expensive but repairs aren't that common so it's not a big issue. Dave is totally right though, manuals are more fun to drive, but on long hauls, especially towing automatics make life easier.
Well in the UK you are TAUGHT how to drive before being allowed out on the road on your own. The teaching can easily involve 20 one hour lessons in the instructors vehicles. Most new drivers START on manual boxes. Also the minimum age is 17 (18 in much of mainland Europe)
You are not given a bunch of keys at 16 to some glorified Jeep and left to your own devises.
automatics are boring and people who drive manual look down on those who don't so there's the peer pressure factor.