ME: in Times Lit Supp

Edward Luttwak, a man with whom it is easy to disagree - and I did

published September, 1 2017
Donald Trump and the car-makers

Sir, – Edward Luttwak says in his ­latest letter (August 18 & 25) that “in 2016 the US population had reached 326.5 million; thirty years before, in 1986, US car sales were 16 million when the US population was 240 million: that is 0.053 per cent of Americans bought a new car in 2016 as opposed to 0.066 thirty years earlier – proportionately that translates into 4.2 million fewer car buyers in 2016”. He goes on to say that most of that 4.2 million “are truly deprived, cut off from access to employment or even food”.

He has been confusing new car sales with car ownership. Leaving aside the fact that he can’t do simple arithmetic (he forgot to multiply by 100 when he calculated his percentages: it should have been 5.3 per cent and 6.6 per cent of Americans purchased a car), the population figures he used include people under the age of eighteen: the adult population, the figure he should have used, is about 250 ­million, so the percentage of adult Americans who bought a new car in 2016 is more like 7.0 per cent and not the 0.053 that Mr Luttwak gave. And even had he been correct, calculations to three decimal places don’t make the figures more truthful. Far from increasing numbers of people being “carless”, vehicle ownership in the US has reached a record level of more than 264 million (IHS Markit, November 2016). Mr Luttwak’s end of term report: must try harder.

Beckley, East Sussex.