Archive for the ‘General’ Category

 

Apr 02

Volt sales pretty well flat in March

 

GM plug-in sales last month saw the Cadillac ELR have its best month to date, with 81, Spark EV its second-best with 108, and the Volt? Its 1,478 sales were the exact same as 1,478 sold in March 2013.

Technically, that’s a 3.8-percent increase if you consider March 2013 had 27 selling days and March 2014 had 26. It’s also an improvement over 1,210 sold in February 2014, and 918 in January, but down from 2,392 in December 2013.

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As for Nissan, its Leaf had its second-best month ever, topped only slightly by a traditionally strong December performance last year of 2,529.

The Leaf is up 12.1 percent year over year as it delivered 2,236 in March 2013.

Also strong was Toyota’s plug-in Prius which while limited market, sold 1,452.

Tesla might have sold 1,600 if the guesstimate from Autodata is close to right for the carmaker that does not report sales like most others do.

Other numbers of note are: C-Max Energi: 610; Fusion Energi: 899, Focus Electric: 177; Fiat 500 Electric: 166.

GM has bigger fish to fry right now with the ignition recall and related issues.

 

Apr 01

Ford ‘Upside’ ad parodies GM’s ‘Poolside’

 

Today is April 1, and this is dead serious. Or is it?

You decide: What should we make of this Ford C-Max Energi commercial posted by “Upside” on Youtube?

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The inversion of Cadillac’s ELR “Poolside” commercial is racking up the view-counter tally, and it’s a spoof of an American ethic with a new American ethos in its place.

Instead a rich white guy at his $28.8 million house, a black woman, Pashon Murray, the founder of Detroit Dirt promotes urban farming in a decidedly less well-to-do neighborhood.

Her dialogue and the choreographing of the 1-minute skit pretty well mimics the power broker character played by actor Neal McDonough.

This one could be analyzed a lot of different ways. A couple obvious ones are that it’s a blatant capitalization on the ode to capitalism that was GM’s ad.

Another could be it’s a backlash against the rich elitism some decried.

Actually, Cadillac’s ad was taken as a great ad that some conservative commentaries said seriously upset liberals, and in that, they expressed great pleasure.

Others said it sends a terrible message about America and takes a jab at Europeans at the same time, thus it was done in poor taste.

Our comment: no comment.

You are free to decide what you wish, but the plug-in C-Max ad’s inspiration is obvious – whether all in good fun, or not so much, some will surely think it’s pretty funny.

How about you? What do you think?

 

Mar 31

Walmart shows US-made hybrid turbine truck concept

 

By Phillippe Crowe

The majority of the goods Walmart sells come from somewhere else, but this truck would use American engenuity to transport them.

If Batman were a trucker, would this be his rig?

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The answer to the above question is not known, but if Walmart has its way, it will change the look and powertrain of 18-wheels trucks as we know it.

Walmart showcased its futuristic truck March 26 at the Mid-America Trucking Show (MATS) in Louisville, Kentucky.

The Walmart Advanced Vehicle Experience is a tractor-trailer that combines leading edge aerodynamics, an advanced turbine-powered range extending series hybrid powertrain, electrified auxiliary components, and sophisticated control systems.

Walmart said this all in one package has been developed in support of the company’s sustainability program.

In a first step launched in 2005, Walmart announced its goal to double fleet efficiency by 2015. Walmart trucks log millions of miles every year, so when it comes to sustainability and fleet efficiency, the goal was simple: deliver more merchandise while driving fewer miles on the most efficient equipment. As of last year, the company had achieved an 84 percent improvement in fleet efficiency over its 2005 baseline.

“Walmart is continually looking for innovative ways to increase our efficiencies and reduce our fleet’s emissions,” said Tracy Rosser, senior vice president of transportation at Walmart. “The Walmart Advanced Vehicle Experience is a bold step in transportation technologies that, although not on the road in its current form, will serve as a learning platform for the future that will accelerate our progress toward our goals.”

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Walmart stated the new truck project aims to demonstrate a wide range of cutting edge technologies and designs Walmart is considering in an effort to improve the overall fuel efficiency of its fleet and lower the company’s carbon footprint. Although the prototype currently runs on diesel, its turbine is fuel neutral and can run on compressed or liquid natural gas, biofuels or other fuels.

The prototype is the result of collaboration between, amongst others, Walmart, Peterbilt, ROUSH, Great Dane and Capstone Turbine. Walmart proudly stated almost every component on this vehicle is cutting edge and showcases innovations of the future that will drive increased efficiencies.

The retail giant described the various aspects of its Walmart Advanced Vehicle Experience as follows:

Tractor: Walmart and Peterbilt have collaborated on aerodynamic, hybrid, electrification and alternative fuel projects in the past, each with incremental gains in fuel efficiency and emission reductions. The Walmart Advanced Vehicle Experience tractor combines many of these projects in a single vehicle.

“Peterbilt’s goals of producing the most fuel-efficient, aerodynamic, and lightweight trucks in the industry mirror those of Walmart,” said Landon Sproull, chief engineer at Peterbilt. “Our combined efforts help build a business case for these technologies in the future, as well as support one of our best customers.”

Aerodynamics: Designers used extensive computational fluid dynamics (CFD) analysis to optimize the truck’s styling. The truck’s shape represents a 20 percent reduction in aerodynamic drag over Walmart’s current Peterbilt Model 386. By placing the cab over the engine, the truck’s wheelbase is greatly shortened, resulting in reduced weight and better maneuverability. Walmart relied on product development supplier ROUSH to carry out the vehicle’s construction with these detailed design specifications.

“We work every day with customers from the automotive and aerospace industries, all of whom have a laser focus on maximizing efficiencies through improved aerodynamics,” said Tom Topper, ROUSH’s executive director of prototype services. “This design is revolutionary and truly world class.”

Range Extending Series Hybrid: Range extending hybrids are a synergy between electric trucks and series hybrids, and their design reduces the energy storage size required for trucks to run on batteries alone. With Walmart Distribution Centers now located closer to metropolitan areas, transport vehicles have shorter transit times to their delivery destinations. These shorter trips reduce the vehicles’ average trip speed and create more opportunities to recover energy through regenerative braking. The generator and energy storage on the truck are scalable based on the range desired.

Turbine Power: The truck features a microturbine Range Extender generator developed by Capstone Turbine Corporation. The company also engineered the truck’s integrated hybrid drivetrain solution. The use of a hybrid powertrain allows the turbine to remain at optimum operating revolutions per minute (RPM), while the electric motor/energy storage handles acceleration and deceleration. A longer-range version of this powertrain would feature a larger turbine and smaller energy storage system.

“We developed this microturbine hybrid electric drive system by assembling the best team of technology leaders in the industry,” said Steve Gillette, director of business development for Capstone. “We look forward to the day when these energy-saving features are standard offers for the market.”

Fuel Neutral Capability: Turbines by their nature are fuel neutral and produce very low emissions without the need for aftertreatment. Turbines are also appealing because of their few moving parts, low maintenance requirements and lighter weight.

Component Electrification: With automobiles moving to electrified accessories such as power steering and air conditioning, this truck scales those systems up for use on a larger vehicle. These electrified components are used only when needed and at peak efficiency.

Charge Mode: When keyed on, the truck automatically detects the state of charge of the batteries and starts charging them, if needed, using the turbine engine. Charge mode can be manually selected if an operator wishes to “top off” the batteries prior to shutting down.

Electric Vehicle Mode: For use in urban areas, the truck will run on electric power alone until the battery state of charge hits 50 percent. At that time the turbine will automatically start and begin charging the batteries.

Hybrid Electric Mode: For maximum range, this mode runs the turbine continuously, only shutting down if the batteries run out.

Trailer: The vehicle’s trailer, manufactured by Great Dane, offers a host of fuel-saving features. The trailer body is built almost exclusively with carbon fiber, including one-piece carbon fiber panels for the roof and sidewalls, saving nearly 4,000 pounds when compared to traditional designs. The trailer’s convex nose also enhances aerodynamics while maintaining storage space inside the trailer. Other special features of the trailer include special low-amperage LED lighting strips, composite trailer skirts, aerodynamic disc wheel coverings, a Posi-lift suspension, and a one-piece, fiberglass-reinforced floor panel with a 16,000 pound forklift rating.

“This road-ready prototype trailer is a bold step in transportation technologies,” said Adam Hill, vice president of product and sales engineering at Great Dane. “We look forward to further collaboration with Walmart to create more fuel-efficient vehicles of this type in the future.”

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Walmart said key partners in its Walmart Advanced Vehicle Experience – in addition to Peterbilt Motors Company, ROUSH, Capstone Turbine Corporation and Great Dane – include Qualnetics Corporation, Allison Transmission, Transpower, New Eagle, Fiber-Tech Industries, Grote Industries, Inc., Laydon Composites Ltd., Isringhauser Seats, Graykon, LLC, Dometic Corp, RealWheels Corp, Corvus Energy, Parker Hannifin, Accuride, Milliken Chemical, SAF-HOLLAND USA, Inc. and Whiting.

“The creation of this showcase vehicle was only made possible through strong collaboration with our partners, and we thank each of them for their valuable contribution,” said Rosser. “It’s important that we continue to work collectively on future innovations and challenge ourselves to look boldly at fleet efficiency in new and different ways.”

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Mar 28

Tesla vs. The Dealer Franchising System – Part 1, Consumer Interests

 

I did not want to post the Introduction to this series just in the interest of reducing words for you to read – plus this is still kind of general, and just begins for two more articles about consumer interests at stake in the Tesla Question.

Anyone really wanting to know the underlying premise behind this article – and a series looking at things from the 30,000-foot level – should read the introduction linked below.

It explains in greater detail how economists have long taught “self interest” is found at the core of every economic transaction. It would pay to remember that.

A detached view would look at Tesla’s challenge as the company playing out from its self interest. It plus every other “stakeholder” – car dealers, automakers, consumers, legislators – are listening to WII FM (what’s in it for me). The intro touches on the fact that Tesla poses its model as a more enlightened way, and hopes for mutually symbiotic benefit even as it meets its goals.

This is Part One in a series that may wind up being 7-8 installments. Here’s the link for the Introduction.

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What do consumers potentially stand to gain or lose by Tesla Motors’ insistence on its factory direct sales and service model?

The answer depends on a complex set of state-by-state variables yet in play, and while this is a question about the future which no one really knows, some have been quite willing to say what it will or can be.

For now Tesla’s fewer than 30,000 Model S sales to date make it a niche player compared to millions of cars annually sold, but it aspires to grow toward mass market status in the next few years.

Observers in favor of Tesla are ready to wave it past existing state franchise and licensing laws in the name of a more enlightened way.

Others ask why Tesla should get special breaks when it already has received so many, and they talk of unintended consequences for the economy, consumers, and other issues that aren’t commonly reported with much coherence or cogency.

One thing Tesla supporters have expressed is distaste for the present car buying process. Backlash against car dealers has become ugly over “middlemen” trying to protect their turf, but from a 30,000-foot view, one might wonder if this is really a case of a system bigger than any one stakeholder.

As it is, deliberately worded verbiage has frothed up a longstanding distrust for what more likely is a love-hate relationship between consumers and the present car buying paradigm comprised of automakers selling through licensed franchise dealers.

Emotions ranging to moral indignation have run hot against car dealer associations and legislators who back them when they seem to trample on democratic ideals, free market tenets, and individual freedoms.

And without a doubt, it is a regulated market. Tesla as the self-appointed “disruptor” has challenged the status quo where opposed.

Thus far, Tesla has succeeded in planting full-fledged factory direct retail stores – not only its limited-scope “galleries” – in a growing number of states, so it’s not like other states holding onto restrictive rules speak from a place of unanimity either.

While Tesla’s stock price has seen a 10-year-old company that’s only produced two car models inflated to half the market capitalization of General Motors, and its name seems to be everywhere, the Tesla Question is more than only about Tesla.

Some of the spin has spun beyond reality too, say observers, but for the moment, imagine this really is all about the company headquartered in Palo Alto, Calif.

The following is based on interviews provided by Tesla proponents and opponents and also those with no direct stake. Tesla did not reply to repeated requests for an interview or commentary.

Intangible Consumer Benefits

To some following the rise of Tesla and its magnificent Model S electric sedan launched summer of 2012, the start-up is as much an activist’s cause as it is a company.

Led by the charismatic billionaire “genius” Elon Musk, Tesla aims to impact transportation so profoundly that it will provoke automakers to follow where they may have been too timid to tread.

At least that’s some of the hope including Tesla’s promise of cleaner air, and its affront to the nebulously lumped together traditional petroleum-powered paradigm.

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A waft of conspiracy theory is in the air for the underdog hero struggling against the entrenched powers that be.

If John Lennon were still alive, perhaps he would be singing, “All we are saying is, is give Tesla a chance!”

And wouldn’t it be nice, say supporters, to have a chance to at last say “we don’t need you” to OPEC, and oil companies? Instead we could accelerate the future with U.S. manufactured electric cars powered by domestically produced energy.

Waiting for the government to achieve “energy independence” has otherwise become a point of parody. Comedian Jon Stewart has richly rubbed the nose of the last eight presidents into their own unfulfilled big talk. Tesla in contrast is seen as a gleam of home-grown entrepreneurial hope and maybe our best current chance to push a paradigm shift.

Meanwhile, if auto dealers presented as attacking Tesla were to lose out in some way, there would be no love lost by some Tesla supporters. Dealers are widely castigated as purely self-serving interests trying to protect their grip on the market.

In short, this is nearly being viewed as a battle of good versus evil.

Tesla is a techno-cool company where Silicon Valley luminaries and various like-minded supporters around the world hope to show Detroit and Europe their way is better, and do what others say cannot be done.

Being a part of it all can be exciting, like rooting for a super talented underdog team pitted against a not-well-liked incumbent whose had enough wins for one lifetime.

It’s been said these high-stakes and emotional circumstances are also a recipe for intellectual filters and selective contemplation of the big picture – i.e., bias.

Not that everyone has drunk Tesla-flavored kool-aid, but many on all sides of the issues observed the phenomenon of skewing the story into a drama over moral ideals, even “us versus them,” a concept widely propagated, even from the top.

“We certainly have a lot of battles in a lot of places,” said Musk last year to Automotive News. “So far we’ve been successful in those fights. It’s because right is on our side.”

Tangible Consumer Benefits

Underlying the movement-that-is-Tesla are products; cars to be exact, and maybe trucks later too.

Ironically, the peoples’ choice candidate is a corporation with multinational aspirations, wants profits as fat as Porsche gets, and it now sells a car that costs two-to four times the $31,000 national average new car price.

For those who cannot now afford the $72,000-$133,000 federal subsidy eligible Model S, but otherwise love the idea of ushering in an electric-powered world, they are waiting as patiently as they can. Tesla is working on planting its “Gigaplant” so it can begin selling close to a half million cars per year within the decade, and first up is to be the $35,000 Gen 3 sedan aimed at a BMW 3-Series demographic.

In one sense, it could be seen as a strange twist on the Robin Hood story. Traditionally Robin Hood robbed from the rich and gave to the poor. In Tesla’s case, it is led by a rich man, caters to the well-to-do, and the lower income folk hope to get their portion in due time. Perhaps the populist hero mantle still fits because Tesla in other ways remains a small player against an even bigger and deeper pocketed perceived foe.

Breaking into the market was always expected to have high costs, so concentrating first on the luxury performance segment was seen as the easiest way to begin.

In any event, Tesla has given supporters – and TSLA investors and speculators – a glimpse of a future that looks much better than the present. To them, it must therefore be permitted to succeed and bear fruit on a host of implicit and explicit promises.

Opposing Viewpoints

Talking points and allegations fomenting this revolution rumbling in the background have come from all over, including Tesla itself. It is backed also by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA), among others, against an old nemesis: the car dealer lobby as it’s generally called.

“If the people of Texas knew how bad this was, they would be up in arms, because they are getting ripped off by the auto dealers as a result (not saying they are all bad – there are a few good ones, but many are extremely heinous),” wrote Elon Musk last year in an internal e-mail when trying to get Texas laws changed. “For everyone in Texas that ever got screwed by an auto dealer, this is your opportunity for payback.”

Wanting correction for perceived inequities also is the CFA which counts Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports, as one of its members. That advocacy group was soundly “crushed” last time it sought factory direct sales 12 years ago, said Jack Gillis, director of public affairs and author of The Car Book.

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“This is a market crying out for disruption for so many reasons. If Tesla is allowed to sell directly to consumers and they fail…so be it,” said Gillis. “But for dealers to fight tooth and nail in state legislatures to keep them from doing so is not only uncompetitive, but un-American!”

“The current buying process is severely broken,” he said. “Not only is it broken in terms of its implementation, but I haven’t even mentioned the racial discrimination that happens in dealer financing, the selling of overpriced products and features that are valueless (rust proofing, extended warranties, fabric sealant, etc.), the shenanigans that go on in the dealer’s financing office, and any number of dealer practices that cause auto dealers lead the list of complained about companies at the BBB, state attorney general’s offices, and county offices of consumer affairs.”

Gillis sent along a position paper based on studies done in the 1980s and with data from the 1990s, and two press releases linked here and here, dated 2001 and 2002. The 14-year-old-plus market analysis said car shoppers could save $1,500 per transaction by unleashing the power of the Internet and essentially deregulating car dealers. Gillis guessed more could now be saved, but said CFA has no more recent studies supporting its passionate position.

In disagreement with the CFA is Michael Charapp, a partner at Charapp & Weiss, LLP, a firm representing car dealers and car dealer trade associations..

“To Mr. Gillis’ reliance on an archaic study of what dealers cost customers that was incorrect when published, the conclusion is nonsense,” he said. “That study on which Mr. Gillis and all the other anti-dealer advocates have parroted for years was fatally flawed. If you disregard the facts that local representation for showing cars, stocking inventory, allowing test drives, arranging financing,, handling trades, providing get ready for the vehicle delivery, handling warranty repairs, and all the rest of the things a dealer does, the costs could go down. But you cannot. Those functions of a local dealer are a necessity for the market. Without those things the car market will not work.”

And Bill Wolters, president of the Texas Auto Dealer Association had more to say.

“Jack Gillis and the CFA have been a voice in the wilderness on automotive issues for years. They have never sold a car, never had their own money at risk, never had a franchise jerked out from under them and never worked as hard or had their family’s reputation on the line every day that they go to work,” said Wolters. “Jack Gillis is like the guy who never played a down of football but who is happy to tell the coach how to run his team.”

Gillis and Wolters both testified before authorities in 2002 on issues affecting car dealers and consumers, and said Gillis, “We were completely crushed by powerful state dealership lobbies when we tried to open the market in the states.”

So indeed, this is not just about Tesla.

“Dealers have used franchise laws, which were initially intended to protect them from manufacturer abuse, to prevent competitive channels of distribution,” said Gillis. “Tesla is the first significant challenge that they have had to these now outdated and very market restrictive laws. While Tesla has the wherewithal to challenge dealerships, from a consumer perspective this is not about Tesla, but about insuring that auto buyers have the same alternative buying sources as do purchasers of virtually every other consumer product on the market.”

To make points that stick, advocates may simplify issues. In reality, a vast array of major and minor issues besides are also floating out there. More of these, and how they might affect consumers will be continued in the next installment.

Just as extra entertainment over the weekend, this car also says Tesla Schmesla.

 

Mar 27

US raw battery materials may go to Tesla Gigafactory

 

By Phillippe Crowe

Tesla’s gigafactory has echoes in the political spheres, but is also creating waves in the battery manufacturing and the mining industries.

American Manganese Inc., a company mining in Arizona raw materials needed for EV batteries, added its views by stating where they would like to see raw materials sourced.

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According to the mining company, Tesla’s gigafactory sparks new interest for secure lithium ion battery raw material sources.

American Manganese describes itself as a diversified specialty and critical metal company focusing on potentially becoming the lowest cost producer of electrolytic manganese products from its Arizona Manganese Project (pictured).

“The recent (Feb. 26, 2014) announcement by Tesla Motors of the imminent construction of a Lithium Ion Battery Gigafactory has raised the bar for electric vehicle production,” said Larry W. Reaugh, president and chief executive officer of American Manganese Inc. “Initial production from the Gigafactory is scheduled for 2017, and full production scheduled for 2020. At full capacity, the facility would manufacture as many lithium ion batteries as the 2013 total world production.”

Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, and Texas are vying to host the manufacturing facility, with  Arizona being the most aggressive thus far, as proposed bill 2123 in the state legislature would legalize direct sales of Tesla electric cars within the state.

Tucson Arizona (Pima County) has submitted a formal proposal to Tesla to become the host site.

Another communication from Mohave County Economic Development to Tesla referred to American Manganese’s Artillery Peak Manganese Project as an additional incentive to locate in Mohave County.

American Manganese said it has a patented hydrometallurgical process for the commercial production of Electrolytic Manganese Metal (EMM), Electrolytic Manganese Dioxide (EMD), and Chemical Manganese Dioxide (CMD) from manganese resources.

EMD and CMD are used in dry cell and rechargeable batteries.

Lithium Manganese Dioxide (LMD) rechargeable batteries, also known as spinel, are currently being used in the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf electric vehicles.

American Manganese declared it successfully produced rechargeable lithium ion battery prototypes utilizing high purity CMD from their Artillery Peak manganese resource in late 2012. CMD eliminates the use of expensive electroplating cells and high electricity costs.

“It is my belief that Tesla’s project is concrete evidence of the growth and viability of the electric car market, resulting in greater demand for lithium ion batteries,” said Reaugh. “The need for secure metal feed stocks used to make these batteries; such as Manganese, Cobalt, Lithium, Carbon, and others; will correspondingly increase to meet the soaring electric vehicle demand.”

Reading between the lines, it is clear American Manganese Inc. would like to be the company providing raw materials to this upcoming Tesla gigafactory.

 

Mar 26

A123 Systems Focusing On Vehicle Batteries Again

 

By Phillippe Crowe

A123 Systems is back into the spotlight and taking steps to focus on transportation batteries.

A123 announced March 24 an agreement to divest of its grid storage business and other assets related to energy storage for telecom and IT data storage applications.

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The company describes itself as a developer and manufacturer of advanced Nanophosphate lithium iron phosphate batteries and systems.

A123 stated it is increasingly focused on the transportation market with a particular emphasis on micro-hybrids. This rapidly growing application segment is attractive said A123 because automotive OEMs around the world are steadily turning towards simpler forms of electrification in their mainstream high-volume vehicle lines to address the ever-increasing regulatory requirements of lower emissions and better fuel economy around the world. The company believes its battery technology is very well suited to the requirements of this market and it is currently producing 12-volt micro-hybrid batteries for numerous programs across three vehicle manufacturers.

A123 explained it also continues to actively serve and grow its customer base in the fields of hybrid, plug-in hybrid and fully electric vehicles globally. With the recent integration of battery production and engineering facilities in Hangzhou, China, which were previously under the management of Wanxiang EV, A123 has expanded its battery technology portfolio to include additional products well suited to the requirements of electric cars and buses.

“Our move to sharpen focus on current and future customers in the global transportation market demonstrates strategic clarity in our business. Our customers and partners around the world will benefit from the organization focusing its R&D strength and system engineering capabilities on clear priorities,” said Jason Forcier, CEO of A123 Systems. “We look forward to continued growth as a provider of leading-edge energy storage technology to the world’s vehicle manufacturers as they continue to develop the most economical forms of electrification.”

The divested businesses are being sold to NEC Corporation of Japan which intends to incorporate them into its Smart Energy Business Unit.

The former A123 Energy Solutions facilities in Westborough, Massachusetts and Chesterfield, Missouri are included in the deal. As part of the transaction, A123 will retain all of its cell manufacturing locations globally including those in Michigan and China and become a key cell supplier to NEC.

 
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