What is Ben Stein Smoking? (Part 2)

I’m going to try not to make

a habit of this, but I just have to scratch the itch that is Ben

Stein’s column. This week Stein waxes lyrical on the subject of Detroit,

and its car-making abilities. He kicks off with the golden glow of nostalgia,

and the "cherry red, customized, startlingly powerful 1962 Corvette"

he bought in 1972. It got somewhere in the region of 11-17 miles to the gallon,

apparently, although

Stein doesn’t tell us that.

Today, Stein drives a Cadillac STS-V. It seems this magical car has something

called a "boost phase" which he can use to feel like Superman. Lucky

him. As for the mileage, it’s much of a muchness compared to his chariot made

45 years earlier: the Cadillac gets 14 miles per gallon, in the city, as much

as 21 mpg on the highway. List price is a hair over $75,000.

Stein then names five cars he admires. There are two Japanese cars on the list,

the Nissan Altima and the Toyota Camry. There are also three Detroit cars: the

Chrysler 300C, the Cadillac Escalade, and the aforementioned STS-V. In order

for Detroit to "revive," he says, and compete with the Altima and

the Camry, it should make more cars like these, "cars that dreams are made

of". After all, he says, "when was the last time you heard a buyer

of a new car say that she bought her last car because it was 5 percent cheaper

than another model she was considering?"

Er, 5% cheaper? Let’s compare these models, using the basic configuration of


Car City/Highway List price


26/35 mpg $17,950


24/34 mpg $18,470


17/25 mpg $34,975


12/19 mpg $59,640


14/21 mpg $75,010

These are the gasoline models, by the way. The Altima and the Camry also have

hybrid versions; the Detroit cars, needless to say, don’t.

The fact is that Stein’s beloved Cadillacs are anachronisms in these days of

global warming and the desperate need to improve gas mileage and reduce carbon

emissions. The Altima and the Camry are pretty weak, by European or even Chinese

standards, when it comes to fuel efficiency – but Detroit’s efforts are

much, much worse.

In any case, I think it’s pretty obvious from that table why the Altima and

the Camry outsell the STS-V. Given the choice between a "boost phase"

and saving $57,000, I think I’d choose the car with the better mileage.

Stein might be the last man in America to think that building more Escalades

is actually a good idea. But then again, he’s also a man who says that the US

stock market investors remind him of "a rich Jewish family in Italy as

the Nazis take over," just before they are sent

to the gas chambers. For which statement alone he should lose his NYT column,

not that he will.

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