Research undertaken by just-auto forecasts that the global number of new vehicles fitted with automatic transmissions will exceed those of manual gear shift for the first time in 2007.

Despite being heavier and more expensive, the popularity of automatic transmissions has grown and automatics are established as the most popular option for passenger cars and light commercials in North America and Japan.

Manual transmissions have long prevailed in Western Europe and in the high-growth markets of Eastern Europe and Asia the importance of low prices have limited penetration rates for automatic transmissions.

However, just-auto's research suggests that automatic transmissions will continue to gain ground across the world well beyond 2007.

Penetration within the dynamic Asian market looks set to advance rapidly as booming economies generate greater consumer affluence. Increasing road congestion should also encourage drivers to opt for user-friendly automatics, a trend that has long been evident in Japan.

just-auto estimates that by 2014 the additional demand for automatics will equate to the production output of no less than ten major transmissions plants.

GM, Honda and Aisin AW are among the companies to have begun working towards this and will be well placed to expand existing capabilities in the future. Many major players have also established Chinese technical centres.

Interestingly, Japan's bias towards automatics is beginning to be mirrored in South Korea. Here, consumers have no historical prejudices and exports to North America have helped to hone the automatics expertise of domestic manufacturers.

The prospects for innovative automatic transmissions including CVT, IVT and AMT technologies also appear extremely healthy. The strong expected gains should come at the expense of manual transmissions rather than eroding conventional automatic volumes which look set to rise annually and are expected to account for over half of all global transmissions by 2012.

More on this: Global market review of automotive transmissions - forecasts to 2014