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This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Sun, Aug 1, 2004

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

The Honda Civic Hybrid is one of three cars qualifying for HOV access.



In "Hybrids in the Carpool Lane (Without a Carpool)," we wrote about California's proposal to allow drivers of the most fuel-efficient hybrid vehicles access into the carpool lane even without a carpool. That bill, sponsored by Assemblywoman Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) and principally co-authored by George Nakano (D-Torrance), received the support from both the State Senate and Assembly, and was sent to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger for his signature on Thursday. The bill becomes law unless the Governor vetoes it within 30 days. Although the measure passed, it was not without criticism from some lawmakers, who sided with Ford Motor Company Chairman Bill Ford's position that its strict requirement of only applying to hybrid vehicles that average 45 miles per gallon or more will unfairly exclude Ford's new 35-mpg Escape hybrid SUV. In a letter to Schwarzenegger and state lawmakers early last week, Ford called the plan a "buy Japanese" bill and a "special-interest measure ... intended for almost exclusive use by Toyota Prius drivers." Presently, the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight and Civic are the only vehicles that would meet the legislation's 45 miles per gallon minimum requirement. "By setting the (45 mpg) standards, this bill excludes a number of hybrids that are planned to come on the market," said Assemblyman John Campbell (R-Irvine) as reported by Alexa Bluth and Jim Sanders of the Sacramento Bee Capitol Bureau. "We shouldn't be discriminating on the type of vehicle this is to get in the hybrid lane," continued Campbell. Ford Motor Company has several offices headquartered in Irvine, California. Another critic of the bill was Assemblyman John Dutra (D-Fremont), who called it unfair to U.S. automobile manufacturers, including the New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. in his district. "The standards are so high that... no hybrid vehicle made in the United States will comply or can comply," he said.

Other lawmakers, however, took umbrage at Ford's effort to thwart the legislation. Roger Vicent of the Los Angeles Times reports that Sen. Ross Johnson (R- Irvine) labeled Ford "a billionaire crybaby." Treasurer Phil Angelides, who backed the bill, added: "Any car company can produce fuel-efficient, clean vehicles if they want to. I think Bill Ford ought to spend more time figuring out how to out-compete the Japanese." The carpool legislation (AB 2628) has attracted other high-profile supporters, including support from Governor Schwarzenegger himself. Despite the lobbying from Ford Motor Company, the Governor says he will sign the measure. "We continue to believe that it provides consumers incentive to purchase a low-emission vehicle ... which then will help improve California's air quality," said the Governor's spokeswoman, Terri Carbaugh.

Single-occupant travel by hybrids on the HOV (high-occupancy vehicle) lanes will take effect only if the U.S. Congress passes a transportation funding bill that has a provision endorsing the change. Approval at the federal level is needed because federal funds are used to build carpool lanes. Comment on this blog: Letter to the Editor

Toyota says it'll never offer leather in its Prius

IS YOUR CAR VEGAN? August 29, 2004

To automobile manufacturers trying to win favor among the increasing number of consumers who say they are environmentally conscious, vegans - who avoid all animal products - are what one marketing expert called the center of the bull's-eye, according to a report by Sharon Bernstein of the Los Angeles Times. Says Bernstein, "pleasing those who shun animal products is seen as key to reaching a wider, affluent group."

Evidently, pleasing vegans, the theory goes, is key to reaching a wider group of consumers - i.e., affluent shoppers who are willing to pay extra for food, clothing and automobiles, if they are made in ways that do less harm to the planet.

"Toyota Motor Corp. is so attuned to the sensibilities of these so-called green consumers that the company doesn't even offer leather seats for the popular Prius," says Bernstein. Ford Motor Company, continues Bernstein, "ran an eight-page advertisement in the New Yorker magazine touting the company's green credentials. The ad led off with the boast that 11 members of the design team for the company's soon-to-be-released hybrid Escape SUV are vegetarians, and its leader is a vegan." Mercedes-Benz, which doesn't even make a hybrid, will offer a non-leather package starting with the 2005 model year. According to the report, the move is in response to customer requests. The report interviews Marr Nealon, a nutritional consultant based in Eagle Rock, and a hardcore vegan. "She doesn't wear silk out of concern for silkworms. She won't eat honey, saying, 'It's something the bees make for their own consumption. Why should we take their food?'" Hardcore vegans, however, are only part of the targeted market.

Joe Marra, executive director of Natural Marketing Institute, is interviewed and says vegetarians make up just 1.5 percent of the general population, and vegans hardly register at all. More significantly, the report says Marra's firm has conducted research showing that more than a quarter of the adult population (about 56 million people nationwide) say they look for products that are "healthy and sustainable." The vast majority of these consumers evidently say they are willing to pay significantly more for environmentally friendly products. Bernstein writes, "It's these customers - who buy organic produce and biodegradable cleaning products - whom the car companies really want, Marra and others said." As an example of targeting the broader market, the report focuses on Toyota. "While not targeting vegans or vegetarians with direct appeals, Toyota has chosen not to offer its Prius with leather, aware that might offend some customers." "We are sensitive to this," Toyota Advanced Technology Vehicle Marketing Manager Paul Daverio said to the Times. "Prius does represent social responsibility to the environment for many people.... And we understand that there are some issues with leather." Daverio told the Times that Toyota will never make a Prius with real leather. "Oh, no," he said. "We would never do that." Comment on this blog: Letter to the Editor

© AFP Photo


Or maybe both. AFP (Agence France-Presse) reports that an Australian inventor claims to have made the world's first commercially viable motor vehicle powered by compressed air. The company marketing the engine is called Engineair, which is based in Melbourne, Australia. The vehicle is being tried out by contractors in Melbourne's parks and gardens over the next 12 months as an alternative to conventional diesel or petrol engines. According to AFP, Engineair's Angelo Di Pietro (who designed the engine) says the engine produces no pollutants and has only two moving parts, thereby increasing its efficiency over conventional designs. The design is said to use compressed air to drive a rotary engine, abandoning the pistons and cylinders seen in more conventional designs. The vehicle being tested in Melbourne has reached 50 kilometers an hour (31 miles an hour) in the workshop and had reportedly proven more efficient than battery-powered golf carts. Di Pietro told AFP that they have attracted interest from the United States, China, the Netherlands and Britain. "The engine's potential is immense." - RN Comment on this blog: Letter to the Editor

WE GET FEEDBACK August 26, 2004

A New York State of Mind - Part 2

In the most recent LA Car Blog entry (see below), we compared drivers and pedestrians in New York City with those in Los Angeles. As often happens on these pages, members from New York, Jersey, California, and elsewhere had plenty to say on the topic.

The Vortex's E30325i lives in New Jersey and observes, "Driving in NYC is like going into battle. You need to tie up loose parts of your car, and gather your courage because NYC taxi drivers are like the Titan's defensive line. When your goin' slow, they'll either swarm around you, or run you off the road."

As for pedestrians, says E30325i: "There are two kinds of pedestrians in NYC - The ones that live there and know how to cross streets with red lights and crosswalks, and the ones that are tourists who have no idea how to safely navigate a red light situation. Uusually you can spot these people by their sunglasses, flat brim hats and the Cannon or Nikon SLR camera strapped around their necks and their constant glances upward and bumping into things."

"Driving in NYC, which I've had for years is like Rallying. You have to know the streets and terrains really well. Then it is about timing and which path you can take to navigate around congestion and avoid trouble spots. Madison Avenue, for example, once you get into the right timing, the light keeps changing green as you go down on it at the right time."

"Night time is the best time to drive in the city, also most dangerous because many people race on the west side highway, it's like a F1 race track with the tall dividers and walls. If you don't have good reaction time and good knowledge of NYC streets, you better off walking and taking the subway."

Nolongerlow in Baltimore adds, "I was damn near ridiculed for crossing crosswalks despite the sign not saying 'walk'. People in LA will sit and wait for however long it takes for that magical box to give them permission to cross the street. Everyone I was hanging out with out there thought I was crazy. No cars and I'm walking, I'm from the east coast we are always in a hurry even when we have no where to go."

VeeDubChick03 concurs: "After living in California and driving in LA traffic, and just being in NY traffic a few weeks ago there is NO comparison. NYC traffic is about 100 times worse then any traffic in LA. I thought that I was going to get rear-ended, t-boned, ran off what little street lane I had, or hit a person walking within the three blocks and three hours it took to get to our hotel. I'd take LA traffic over NY traffic any day of the week!"

Steveatvwdriversclub observes: "One thing I noticed in LA was that people don't honk. It's almost eerie being stuck in traffic for 3 hours and not hearing a single horn. I just assumed, from reading the newspapers out there, if you really piss someone off, they just shoot you. Cars don't come with turn signals in LA. People do jaywalk; had one hotshot Hollywood guy walk out in front of me, talking on a cell phone, and point at me to stop. It's also the only place I've been where police actively ticket jay-walkers."

AK Mabe lives in New York and loves it. "I grew up around NYC and always spent free weekends in Manhattan since I was 14 or so. I never thought twice about going across the street if there are no cars. In NYC you watch the traffic lights to decide when it is safe to walk, not the cross walk signs. Half the time, they will have you walk right in front of a taxi making a turn at 30 mph. I love it when pedestrian traffic takes over an intersection...the can be green and cars are inching forward trying to go but people keep walking."

"When I went to San Francisco two years ago I would come up to a street corner with 10-15 people standing there, look for cars and start walking across while everyone else just stood there. I even had one woman yell, "hey! w there was not a single car coming that way for a solid two blocks."

"LA is a cake walk compared to NYC," says Nolongerlow. "LA does have that weird 'it's 2 a.m. and the freeway is completely jammed" thing going for it, though." Comment on this blog: Letter to the Editor

A NEW YORK STATE OF MIND August 24, 2004

As you may have guessed, the LA Car Blog has been on vacation. Yours truly spent the last week in The Big Apple. Make no mistake about it, New York City may very well be the greatest city in the world. It's truly the metropolis of the nation. San Franciscans refer to their town as The City, but the real city is on the other side of the country. The bay city may be beautiful, but it's no New York City.

Notwithstanding its greatness as an urban center, New York City drivers as well as pedestrians are anything but great. NYC pedestrians, by-and-large, have no regard for traffic lights. If a car's not coming, that means you can cross - even if the light's red and the don't walk sign is up. Drivers are up to the same task. If you're a driver, you use the horn to express your frustrations. Never mind that it makes absolutely no difference in your traffic progress. If pedestrians are on the street, it's okay to proceed so long as you don't run over anyone.

In contrast, Los Angeles drivers and pedestrians seem to believe that traffic laws should be obeyed. Don't walk signs mean don't cross. If a pedestrian attempts to cross, drivers usually stop. Acts of kindness are usually acknowledged with a wave. Of course, the operative word is usually. Road rage still rears its head at times during rush hour traffic, and police chases still make for good TV coverage. But coming back to LA, there is more to look forward to than the great weather.

- RN Comment on this blog: Letter to the Editor

2005 Toyota Camry

YOU ARE WHAT YOU DRIVE August 15, 2004

Is the car you drive a symbolic expression of your identity? Or, is it the other way around? Do car owners take on the personality of the car they drive? Do cars and car owners begin to look like each other after a while? Do people judge you by the car you drive? LA Car published their first "You Are What You Drive" back in 1997. We think it's time for an update. BTW, you might want to take this scientific study with a grain of salt (otherwise, LA Car has three thugs, one SAG member, a couple of lemmings, and an aspiring pimp on its staff!). The statements car owners are really making: Acura RL - I'm too bland for German cars BMW 745i - I am so rich I will pay $70K for a car that is in the shop 280 days per year Buick LeSabre - I am older than 34 of the 50 states Cadillac Escalade - I am an aspiring pimp Chrysler 300C - see Cadillac Escalade Chevrolet Camaro - I enjoy beating the hell out of people Chevrolet Corvette - I'm in mid-life crisis Daewoo Nubira - I learned nothing from the failure of Daihatsu Corporation Ford Explorer - to me, "off road" means pulling into my driveway Ford Mustang - see Chevrolet Camaro Ford Crown Victoria - I enjoy having people slow to 55 mph and change lanes when I pull up behind them Honda Civic - this was a requirement of my high school dress code Honda Accord - I lack any originality and am basically a lemming Honda Odyssey - I now have two kids, so I need a bus to haul them Hummer H2 - I suffer from erectile dysfunction Infiniti Q45 - I am a physician with 4-5 malpractice suits pending Kia Rio - I delivered pizza for four years to get this car Lincoln Town Car - I live for bingo and covered dish suppers Maybach 57 - I will beat you up if you ask me for an autograph Mercury Grand Marquis - see Buick LaSabre Mazda Miata - I do not fear being decapitated by an eighteen-wheeler Mitsubishi Lancer - I am just out of high school and have no credit Oldsmobile Cutlass - I just stole this car and I'm going to make a fortune off the parts Dodge Neon - I sincerely enjoy doing the macarena Pontiac GTO (2004-05) - I enjoy driving a car that looks like a Chevrolet Cavalier Pontiac Trans Am - I have a switchblade in my sock and a CB radio on the dash Porsche 911 - see Hummer H2 Range Rover - I have too much money and enjoy spending it on driveway ornaments Rolls Royce Phantom - I think Pat Buchanan is a tad bit too liberal Subaru Baja - I used to drive Pontiacs and missed the body cladding Toyota Camry - see Honda Accord Toyota Prius - I am an actor and this is a Screen Actors Guild dress code requirement Volkswagen New Beetle - I do not give a damn about J.D. Power or his report Volkswagen Jetta TDI - I can endlessly tolerate hearing, "Isn't a hybrid better?" Volvo V70 Wagon - I am frightened of my wife Send us your own suggestions for car statements: Letter to the Editor

2005 Nissan Pathfinder


WESTLAKE VILLAGE, Calif. - Consumer demand for sport utility vehicles is weakening, according to recent transaction data from the Power Information Network (PIN), LLC. The data show that the number of days SUVs sit on dealer lots before selling has increased substantially over 2003. SUV prices have also declined while average new-vehicle prices have increased, and incentives increased more on SUVs from June to July than they did on any other type of new vehicle. The number of days SUVs are on dealer lots (days to turn) increased from 60 days in July 2003 to 73 days in July 2004 - a 22 percent increase. Days to turn for luxury SUVs increased by 47 percent, more than double the industry rate, as these vehicles sat on dealer lots for 50 days in July 2004 versus 34 days a year ago. Further suggesting a weakening in the SUV sector, the average SUV transaction price dropped two percent (or $620) in July versus a year ago, while overall new-vehicle prices edged up slightly. Luxury SUVs exhibited the most weakness, as the average price slid almost 5 percent. To spur consumer demand, new-vehicle manufacturers increased SUV incentives in July. The average total incentive expenditure per SUV in July was $3,440 - up nearly 12 percent from June. This increase was almost twice the overall industry average increase. "The data clearly suggest the SUV segment is under exceptional pressure," said Tom Libby, senior director of industry analysis at PIN. "Higher gas prices and a renewed emphasis on cars by some of the OEMs have both likely played a role in this trend."

Comment on this blog: Letter to the Editor

2004 Ford Explorer Sport Trac

SUVS READY TO ROLL (OVER) August 10, 2004

Monday the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released its final batch of rollover safety ratings for 2004 vehicles. No one was surprised to see the worst ratings were for SUVs. All vehicles are rated on what's called a five-star scale. The most-stable vehicles - in other words those least likely to roll over - are awarded five stars, with fewer stars indicating a greater chance of tipping. All cars tested this year were given four or five stars. On the other hand, 34 of the 43 SUVs tested were given three stars. And one SUV, Ford's Explorer Sport Trac 4x2, was given two stars, indicating that of all of the vehicles tested, it was the most likely to roll over in a single-vehicle crash. In most cases, four-by-four versions scored better than the same vehicle with two-wheel drive. As the number of SUVs on the road has ballooned, so have the number of injuries due to rollovers. Last year nearly 40 percent of fatalities involving SUVs occurred in rollover accidents. Automakers and the government are well aware of this problem, and it seems every manufacturer is developing Electronic Stability Control (ESC) systems for their SUVs and other vehicles. Look for ESC to become standard - if not government mandated - on most SUVs. The compete ratings and rollover results are available at, or you can get the list faxed to you by calling the NHTSA Auto Safety Hotline at 888-327-4236.

- Chuck Dapoz Comment on this blog: Letter to the Editor

2005 Ford King Ranch F-150 Super Crew


In the Environmental Protection Agency's latest report on fuel economy trends, 2004 Fords earned the lowest average fleet fuel economy of any major car maker selling vehicles in the United States. In fact, the report reveals that Ford has earned the lowest average for every year since 1999. One might be able to overlook this figures, given the large number of trucks and SUVs that the company produces.

The same report, however, reveals that another large producer of trucks and SUVs achieved the best average car fuel economy, the best average truck fuel economy, and the second best combined car and truck fuel economy average. That company is Toyota, and their combined car and truck figures are second only to Honda (27.6 versus 27.7 miles per gallon). Considering the vast number of trucks and SUVs that Toyota produces (versus Honda), this is quite an achievement.

A few years ago, William Clay Ford (Ford's CEO) pledged to dramatically increase the average fuel economy of its truck and SUV line, only to rescind that promise shortly thereafter. According to Gretchen DuBeau of the United States Public Interest Research Group, Ford has been taking actions to undermine the entire federal fuel economy program. Weighing in on a recent Bush Administration request for comments on the fuel economy program structure, Ford supported maintaining an exemption for trucks between 8,500 and 10,000 pounds, as well as a loophole that permits pickup trucks, SUVs, and minivans to meet lower fuel economy standards. "Ford is supporting the Bush Administration¹s proposal to maintain a loophole that blocks our escape from U.S. dependence on oil," said DuBeau. Ford should be commended for bringing its Escape Hybrid SUV to fruition. However, with a projected annual production of only 20,000 vehicles, the introduction of the Escape Hybrid is not expected to make much of a dent in Ford's last place fuel economy rating. Hopefully, Bill Ford's original promise will one day become a reality. - RN Comment on this blog: Letter to the Editor


Volvo S80 Dolby Pro Logic Audio System

The Volvo S80, the maker's flagship sedan, has been on the market for quite some time. We think the vehicle itself is getting a little long in the tooth. On the other hand, its optional Dolby Pro Logic audio system is one great-sounding package. Pro Logic is Dolby Laboratories' trademark for a signal-processing scheme that takes two-channel sound and matrixes it into surround sound with dramatic yet natural-sounding effect. Ergonomically, the unit in the S80 leaves a lot to be desired (try a simple task like changing a preset radio station). However, we're not judging car audio systems on their ergonomics here. We're judging solely on sound quality, and the Volvo's Dolby Pro Logic system definitely belongs in this group.

Some newer Volvos have been introduced with an optional Dolby Pro Logic II system, which takes advantage of Dolby Laboratories' latest research and development in the area of matrixed surround sound. However, the S80's solid and very quiet cabin offers some sonic advantages over the lesser Volvo models. Hence, it's the S80 that makes the grade here.

- RN Comment on this blog: Letter to the Editor


Lincoln LS THX-Certified Audio System

Most of the glory for factory sound systems have gone to Asian and European car makers, but domestic makers are clearly in the game. Lincoln is ready to play ball with the first THX-certified audio system for a factory vehicle.

THX is the brainchild of audio pioneer Tomlinson Holman, who was looking to set out a performance standard for theater sound. THX-certification then spread to home theater. In the Lincoln, THX certification has been granted to a system that employs 10 satellite speakers, two powered subwoofers, and four 50-watt amplifiers. What's important to understand is that THX certification doesn't refer to a brand of equipment, it's a set of standards (including dispersion pattern, loudness, and distortion standards) that a system has to meet. The certification also requires that the vehicle meet certain noise, vibration, and harshness standards.

If we are to nit-pick, the spectral balance sounds a tad bass heavy at times, and the bass is not totally free of distortion. Most of this, however, can be fixed by using the tone controls. All-in-all, however, the package delivers on on the THX promise - i.e., the sound is "remarkably clean and clearly and pleasantly audible under all conditions."

- RN Comment on this blog: Letter to the Editor

Move over, Prius. Make way for V2G.


If you think buying a gas-electric hybrid car like the Toyota Prius or Honda Insight is the state-of-the-art in energy conservation, think again. Mark Clayton of The Christian Science Monitor reports that there's a California electric car company that has modified a Jetta so that it not only uses electricity but generates it for other purposes. Once it's parked, you can purportedly plug it in and sell excess electricity to a utility. It sounds like a great way to mitigate your car payments, but Clayton reports that neither big auto-makers nor utility companies have yet seized on the idea, known as "vehicle-to-grid," or V2G. Evidently, V2G is an idea waiting to happen - and the push toward hybrids today is making it ever more likely, say scientists, entrepreneurs, and economists. "As electric-drive hybrids begin to penetrate the auto market, you now have distributed power generation on wheels," says Stephen Letendre, an economist at Green Mountain College in Poultney, Vt. "You also have an asset that's sitting idle most of the time - just waiting to be connected." According to a 2001 study by AC Propulsion (the San Dimas, California company that created the V2G Jetta), if automakers were to make 1 million next-generation V2G vehicles by 2020, they could generate up to 10,000 megawatts of electricity - about the capacity of 20 average-size power plants.

What's the likelihood of V2G catching on? According to Clayton, a V2G fuel-cell bus in Toronto will be in service in March. Power company PG&E is working with the electric industry's research arm and a contractor to develop a fleet of V2G "trouble trucks" that could generate and deliver power to entire neighborhoods when a storm knocks out power. DaimlerChrysler has reported it is working on a version of its popular pickup truck with V2G capability for supplying power at a work site. AC Propulsion has plans to make as many as 1,000 V2G electric-drive vehicles starting as soon as next year.

Wide use of V2G electric-drive vehicles could generate enough power to cut the requirement for central generating station capacity by as much as 20 percent by the year 2050, according to the Electric Power Research Institute, a utility industry research center in Palo Alto, California. "Today's Toyota Prius battery pack is too small to make it a viable V2G option," says V2G pioneer Willett Kempton. He estimates it would add roughly $400 to a car's overall cost. "In the long run, fuel-cell cars will far exceed hybrids in their electric generating potential."

Comment on this blog: Letter to the Editor


Volkswagen Phaeton 9VE Sound System

In LA Car's July Blog, we introduced our series, "Surveying the Best New Car Sound Systems," with seven units. All seven being the Mark Levinson audio systems available as options on seven of the top Lexus models. Also joining this exclusive club is the new Acura-ELS DVD Audio system that comes as standard equipment on every new Acura TL.

The ninth system to join the ranks is No. 9VE on the Volkswagen Phaeton options list. Option 9VE (which adds a mere $1,000 to the Phaeton) gets you a mega-watt audio system that includes 13 speakers (including subwoofer), 12-channel amplification, and digital sound processing (DSP) with seven adjustable hallway modes. All of this is wrapped in the heaviest, most structurally rigid cabin available in a luxury car under $100,000. The result is, arguably, the best-sounding factory audio system on the planet.

While the Lexus-Mark Levinson and Acura-ELS systems opt for a low-coloration, honest sound, the Phaeton's No. 9VE system shamelessly goes for the jugular - i.e., it sets out to sonically blow you away. This is particularly evident in surround mode, where the sounds from top to bottom are immaculately free from distortion and presented with staggering three-dimensionality.

The sound is remarkably similar to a good DTS (Digital Theater System) set up, in that it is squeaky clean to the point of being hyper-realistic. Some audiophiles may prefer the more natural (albeit less spectacular) systems in the Lexus and Acura vehicles. However, the Phaeton shows what the state-of-the-art can render in a factory sound system.

- RN

Comment on this blog: Letter to the Editor


Ford Mustang Stamp

That was LA Car's subtitle when it started back in 1997. Since then, it became Reporting From Car Culture Ground Zero, then From The Heart of Car Culture, to today's The Cars and Culture of Southern California. At all times, however, we aimed to chronicle the Southland's spirit - much like a journal. Now, the diary goes daily. LA Car has always been a great source to come back to from month-to-month, to see what articles and reviews have been added to our rather staggering database. With the LA Car Blog, we give you a reason to come back virtually every day, as we will be posting new blog entries virtually every day or two (well, there will be occasional vacation breaks).

So, go ahead and bookmark We'll be sure to always provide a link to the latest blog entry. In the meantime, welcome to the journal and journey into the cars and culture of Southern California.

- Roy Nakano

To go to the current blog, click the LA CAR Blog link on the homepage. For past LA Car Blog entries, click the following: July 2004 June 2004 May 2004 April 2004

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