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Malcolm Bricklin's EVWorld.com Interview
Aug 23, 2007 (From the CalCars-News archive)
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EVWorld.com's Editor/Publisher Bill Moore recently conducted an important interview with Visionary Vehicles' Malcolm Bricklin. At EVWorld.com, 3,400 Premium Subscribers going to http://www.evworld.com/­article.cfm?storyid=1303 have already viewed a synopsis, and many have downloaded an MP3 of the interview. (We encourage you to help EVWorld keep publishing by becoming a Premium Subscriber for $29). Since many people prefer to read rather than listen, here's a transcript, including timings, thanks to CalCars volunteer Michael Bender.


For background on Visionary Vehicles, see http://www.vvcars.com We've met with Bricklin and others on his team -- see photo at http://www.calcars.org/­photos-groups.html For CalCars' previous analysis and reporting, at the CalCars-News Archive http://www.calcars.org/­news-archive.html see:

04/14/07: Malcolm Bricklin on His PHEV Plans: Business Week Interview
03/08/07: Visionary Vehicles/Malcolm Bricklin Endorse CalCars & PHEV Campaign
01/09/07: Could China Deliver Affordable PHEV by 2009 with Malcolm Bricklin?


[Intro, excerpted Bricklin audio]
"And he has come up with a gorgeous design -- a four-door, that will be the same size in length and in height as a Mercedes S, but will have the width of a Lamborghini So we're talking about a very luxurious car, that will have all of the beautiful leather and wood inside, and will have all of the same luxury characteristics and that same luxury car... with the benefit of getting 100mpg and being clean and it will sell for around $35,000."

[Bill Moore] {0:25, along with a musical score}

"I want you to imagine the future in motion -- where all cars are green, bicycles move and public transit is fast, frequent and fun; it's a world where mobility is sustainable, and accessible to everyone, where energy is clean and abundant, renewable and affordable, where communities aren't just smart -- they're intelligent and sensible. So come along, and explore that world with me... on EVWorld.com radio!"


[Bill Moore] { 0:56 }
Can the man who brought the world Subaru and Yugo now be among the first to introduce an affordable 100 mile-per-gallon plug-in hybrid? Hello, I'm Bill Moore, the founder and publisher of evWorld.com. This week my guest is automotive legend and tireless entrepreneur and visionary Malcolm Bricklin, who has been pursuing the electric-vehicle dream, along with Malcolm Currie and Richard Mayer, for more than a decade -- starting with the Warrior all-electric bike. Now he's planning to offer by 2010, a $35,000 electric plug-in hybrid. And based on the high-charged energy he displays in this interview, he's likely to pull it off.

[Bill Moore] { 01:38 }
My guest today is Malcolm Bricklin. Mr. Bricklin in famous for bringing the Subaru to America, and then the Yugo, and now he's going to bring Chinese-made vehicles to the United States -- but these are going to be different. These will be, he's hoping, plug-in hybrids. So we'd like to welcome you... welcome, Malcolm.

[Malcolm Bricklin] { 1:59 }
Thank you, Bill.

[BM] { 02:01 }
It's great to have you with us. This is pretty exciting... tell me first a little bit about Visionary Vehicles.

[MB] { 02:08 }
Ok, well, Visionary Vehicles has been set up to hopefully kick start the electric vehicle revolution. Back about a year ago, when I was talking to China about bringing cars and redefining the price of luxury, a good friend of mine and ex-partner of mine -- Dr. Malcolm Currire, who used to be chairman of Hughes Aircraft and Undersecretary of Defense, and the man who developed the EV1 for General Motors -- said to me, "Malcolm, if you're going to bring in cars, you have a duty to bring in environmentally and fuel-economy-wise great cars and electric hybrid plug-ins is the technology to go with, and it's ready to go."

And I said, "Malcolm, you know what? For years, both of us have tried to bring things in and the battery technology hasn't been there and I'm really so sick and tired of 'next year, next year, next year'... Is it really ready?" He said, "Absolutely."

So we went on a trip around the world, and we started looking at everybody's battery technology and motor prices, and everything you need to do to really do this job really right... and we found, what we believe, is the battery technology that can jump start this revolution. But we also found that there's a really great demand. That if we can build a really beautiful car, that's really luxurious and has no compromises, but also has 100 miles to the gallon and can really really be a clean automobile -- that the pent up demand is enormous.

So we went down that road, and it's going together as we speak... I went out and got Herb Gloss -- Herb was the man who was my designer of the Bricklin, 35 years ago. [BM "Ok..." { 03:38 }] I said, Herb, I'm going to try it -- nobody's every tried it twice. A bunch of us lost a lot of money trying it once, and I said it would be really great to have you be the designer of the second Bricklin. And he has come up with a gorgeous design of a four-door, that will be the same size in length and height as a Mercedes S, but will have the width of a Lamborghini So we're talking about a very luxurious car, that will have all of the beautiful leather and wood inside, and will have all of the performance characteristics and that same luxury car... with the benefit of getting 100mpg and being clean and it will sell for around $35,000.

[BM] { 04:17 }
Well, sign me up -- I'm ready (chuckle)... that sounds great.

[MB]
"I can't wait to get my own..."

[BM]
I'm sure that's quite true. You know, I've listened to, or I read an interview that you did with Reuters here earlier this year, back in January, and you had made the comment that you were hoping by about this time of year now to have a demonstrator ready to show people. How is that coming along?

[MB] { 04:38 }
Well, here's what we've done. You know, there are so many people we've found that have been out there pioneering these vehicles. Unfortunately, nobody's been listening. So we went to all of them -- you know, from Felix Kramer, to Dr. Franks at UC Davis, Dr. Currie, of course, and Richard Mayer... guys who have really given a damn and have been developing electric hybrids already. So what we found was that we didn't have to stop and learn about the technology -- it has already been done.

What we needed to do was replace the battery technology they were using with the one we found, and it just does everything better. But what they have done is really good to begin with -- they didn't need any of our knowledge. So we already have cars running around, but what we don't have is a car that looks like the car we're talking about -- because it takes a couple of months actually, to get the clay -- the clay model is done, they finally pulled the fiberglass off of it; now they put it in the computer and upgrade it, and we should have some shell bodies in the next couple of months to put on the mules that we have running right now.

[BM]
Ok...

[MB] { 05:38 }
So I'm thinking we'll have cars -- I'm not sure we're going to show it to the public real fast -- but we're going to have mules for our own demonstration probably in the next three or four months.

[BM] { 05:48 }
Ok, that's great. Now I understand you've been talking to something like 15 different Chinese car companies, and your goal here is to sort of whittle that down to about three manufacturers. How's that process coming along?

[MB] { 06:03 }
That's going good, but something else has happened that's really interesting. You know, here's what our premise is: back in the 20th century, the thing that got the car business off to a running start was Henry Ford developing the assembly line. And we're looking at what we're doing and the truth is, we're not just trying to sell a couple cars -- we think we have an opportunity to help start an industry. So where we're coming from is, what do you really need to start an industry?

The first thing you need is an infrastructure, and we thought that setting up 250 of the best dealers in the country that would have exclusive places -- for the sake of argument, call them the "Electric Outlets." They could sell electric vehicles, electric hybrid vehicles, electric hybrid plug-in vehicles... so you'd go to one place that knew how to sell and service these new types of vehicles, because when you talk amps and volts, it's not the same as talking about a combustion engine. So that's the number one thing we're doing for the industry -- we're going to set up an infrastructure of places you can buy and go get the car serviced.

[BM] Ok...

[MB] { 07:03 }
The next thing that's needed, or needs to happen, is you've got to get component prices down to the right price. You can't be paying $25,000 - $35,000 for batteries, you can't be paying $10,000 for electric motors, you can't be, you can't be, you can't be.... because then you're talking about 150,000 dollars for a car that should sell for about $30,000. So how do you do that?

Well, each of our dealers gives us an order for 1,000 vehicles, and now we have an order for a quarter of a million vehicles, so I can go to my battery company and my motor company, and my controller company and my generator company, and say guys, give me a price, let's build a factory to supply these units, and the price goes down from 20, 25, $30,000 for the battery, to $5,000. And it goes all the way down, and all of a sudden, now you have components you can build, and sell a car for $35,000.

But we're also going to offer the same components that we're going to be using for our vehicles to anybody who wants to be in the business, and if they use our components, then we're going to let them sell through our dealer network. So the dealers will get a lot of product, and the people who want to get in the industry will have an opportunity to buy components at the lowest price without having to start off with big volumes, and they'll have a place for them to sell [their product] without them having to spend the huge amount of money that's necessary to set up and run a distribution network.

[BM] { 08:24 }
All right. To me it sounds like much of this is really keyed on this battery technology that you've come across. What can you tell us about that?

[MB] { 08:31 }
Alright, well first of all, let me just say the following. We have worked out a various lithium-ion technology, and of course we know the danger of lithium is it goes "boom!" And going boom in a car is not a good idea. And it looks like a number of the battery companies have been smart enough to figure different things that they can put in with the lithium that will eliminate the boom!.

Well, one of the other things that we needed to find for our own good was a battery that would take a fast charge, number 1, and a battery that would last for lots of miles, because another thing that we're learning is a new technology, like V2G, which is vehicle-to-grid kind of technology, because utilities are going to want to pull from it, and in fact, you'll be able to rent your car for the ability to pull juice out of it whenever it needs it during peak times.

So, we wanted something that would get a lot of miles before we'd have to worry about it dying, and we found the technology. I can't tell you the manufacturer yet; we will be announcing it, but we have to do it together because we have to real careful -- it's a public company and we can't do anything stupid. But the technology, we will be able to guarantee for a quarter of a million miles, and we are being told that it will get considerably more than that. And the value of that is that when the car is no longer going to be used as a car, the batteries can still be used to generate a profit by selling electricity back to the grid.

[BM] { 10:00 }
Yep, it sounds like a plan. So I gather you're including into your engineering specs here the ability to pass electrical energy both to and from the vehicle then -- is that true?

[MB] { 10:12 }
Absolutely, because what also want to take advantage of is that we also have an on-board generator. And in case there's a hurricane, or a snow storm or a terrorist attack and you need some electricity and you can't get it from the grid, these vehicles are able of electrifying a couple of houses.

[BM] { 10:30 }
You had a lot of successes in the past here -- of course the Subaru of America was a huge success for you. You've had your disappointments -- the Bricklin SV1, you really only sold a handful of those, relatively speaking. But I assume that out of that -- the successes and the disappointments, the hard knocks -- you've gained a wealth of experience. How do you see that applying to selling this really different kind of vehicle to American consumers?

[MB] { 11:03 }
Well, you know, you need a lot of experiences in order to learn what to do and what not to do. And when I look back at everything I've gotten into, and all the goods, the ups and the downs, I laugh, because it's the school that I've had to go to to know what I'm doing know. The first sales that we had sell was first ourselves -- does it make sense, can we do it? And of course we hired all the right people to do the things that had to be done. The second sale was can I really get 250 dealers to buy onto this program? And it looks like now we have an abundance of dealers who want to be part of the program. So that was our next sale, and then of course the third sale was, the most important sale was what you pointed to -- will consumers buy the vehicle? And here's what I know: if we can deliver what I just told you, we will never be able to build enough vehicles. I mean can you imagine a car the size of a Mercedes, with an interior that makes you feel rich, that gets 100 miles to the gallon, has incredible performance characteristics, and is really really clean, and you can buy for under $40,000? And if you're working for Google, they'll give you $5,000 back, and if you're working for Bank of America, they'll give you $3,000 back... and there'll be some Federal taxes you can get off and your utility bills are going to be at the lowest end, and on and on and on and on. We think, if we do our job, the public is going to really go do what they need to do -- buy them in abundance.

[BM] { 12:27 }
Now, you're obviously going to have some competition here -- we've go Toyota who just publicly unveiled a couple of demonstrator plug-in vehicles they're working on, you've got Ford Motor Company who announced just a couple of weeks ago that they'll be working with Southern California Edison in looking at this technology, you've got Daimler with their Sprinter plug-in vans, and then you've got General Motors and the Volt -- so there's some heavy-weight competition out there for you.

[MB] { 12:56 }
Absolutely, absolutely. And by the way, if there's going to be an industry, everybody's got to be in the game. That's number one. Remember, they're selling 17 million new and I think there's such a pent-up demand for a clean, high-mileage car, that if it's designed and built right, I think it'll take over combustion, and there won't be enough capacity for the next ten years. So first of all, I welcome everybody, but the other unfortunately true fact is you cannot move forward on a new technology if you are heavily invested in an old technology. So although all of them have much better resources and far greater brains than anything I would ever amass, their disadvantage is that they're heavily invested in engines and transmissions, and they've got to get rid of that investment before they go heavily into this new technology. So I think they'll dibble[?] with their feet, their toes in the water, they'll build vehicles, I think they're going to be overwhelmed with the response. And no matter how overwhelmed they are, you can't build more cars than you have capacities to build that kind of a car, and capacities means you have to have battery factories and motor factories, and controller factories and all the kind of factories that they don't happen to have right now.

We, on the other hand, have none of that baggage, because we're starting fresh -- so we have the advantage that like when they say the airlines started to change the game, it's the Southwest airlines and the Jet Blue airlines that had the advantage because they didn't have the old infrastructure.

So 1.) I welcome them coming in -- we don't have an industry without them -- and 2.) I wish them not only luck, but if we have anything they can use, we're open to give it to everybody, because we believe competition in this particular game will bring the prices of everything down... and that's my goal.

[BM] { 14:38 }
Right. Now, how much of the engineering expertise on this are you relying on Chinese, or do you have also American and/or European talent that you've brought to bear to tackle this?

[MB] { 14:50 }
We will be announcing who our engineering firm is -- everybody will know who they are and be very impressed. At this time, we are using European and American engineers only. We're not relying on anything from China, except the possibility that we may be manufacturing there. But we're also talking to countries in South Africa, we're also talking to Turkey, we're also talking to a lot of countries who come to us and say, 'Wait a second... we would like to be at the center of the electric vehicle revolution.. We'll put up the money for the new factories and the component factories; we want it to be known that we want to get involved in this whole clean industry.'

We're really keeping our options open right now.

[BM] { 15:25 }
Ok. I have some friends in Mexico that might want to talk to you, too [chuckling] ...

[MB]
You make sure they do.

[BM] { 15:32 }
Now one of the issues of course when dealing with any manufacturer, particularly in China... I have seen Chinese-made vehicles that look great when you look at them sort of superficially, [but when] you get down sort of below the paint level and they begin to look a little less attractive, so if you decide to build over there, then how do you sort of keep a firm hand on quality control coming out of there, given this raft of problems we've had with Chinese products within the last couple of months?

[MB] { 16:08 }
Yeah, yeah. They've got a bad reputation lately and it's unfortunate, but unfortunately, it's deserved -- because if you don't pay attention, that's what happens.

Here's where we're coming from. In order to build a good vehicle, you have to engineer and design that good vehicle. The Chinese, up till now -- not all of them, and I don't want to paint a brush with anybody -- but what's been happening in China has been the following. The Chinese have gone and taken a vehicle, and copied it to try to make it cheaper. Well, you know what? When you make a vehicle a little smaller, you just don't make all of the pieces a little smaller. You've got to really engineer it specifically for that vehicle. So, in order to make a really good quality vehicle, you have to engineer it really good to begin with, you have to design it really good to begin with, and you have to make sure it's manufacturable to begin with, and you have to make sure that that vehicle, once it's produced with the kind of power engines are going to be a good quality -- not in just what you look at, but in endurance, because vehicles have to last for a long time. That's the responsibility we're taking, not China. We will then bring that to China, and present them that and the touring so we know that the pieces that we're talking about fit together, go together, and are right, and will hold up on the long-reliability scale. Then there's the matter -- and you have to do this -- of making a deal with these suppliers and tell them what it is you're expecting of them, and plant a person on a permanent basis so that every single part is checked before it leaves the supplier, and when it gets to the factory, it's re-checked. Now, fortunately, that's where the cheaper manpower comes into play, because we can put more people on that job, specifically to do it where it becomes cost-effective. But if you don't pay attention that way, you lose the game.

[BM] { 17:54 }
Yeah, absolutely. You know, electric-drive vehicles is not a new arena for you, and I think there's sort of a tenuous connection between us because I started evworld essentially after seeing an ad ten years ago this year -- this summer as a matter of fact -- in Business Week magazine advertising I think it was the EV-Warrior bicycle.

[MB] { 18:18 }
You got that. Malcolm Currie and I, and Richard Mayer, started that company in '96 I believe it was. You're right, 10 years ago was when Business Week ran an article and the purpose was for us to learn more about how electric works and how electric vehicles we thought we could market, using the most basic product we could find. I retired, by the way, and Richard went on to sell about a million electric vehicles over the years.


[BM] { 18:45 }
Yeah, I just thought it was kind of interesting that it's been exactly ten years since that ad appeared and that set me down this road toward electric vehicles, but what was it that sort of compelled you to take an interest in electrics?

[MB] { 19:00 }
Well, you know, as a human being -- actually, back in the 70s -- I wanted to figure out how to build electric vehicles. And of course, we were constrained with lead-acid batteries and all their problems, you know what's somewhat unattractive to know that you own a vehicle that as the battery deteriorated, you were going to go slower. It was scary. So I waited for the next battery technology, and then Nickel-Cadmium came out and you know, it had all those problems with memory and all that sort of stuff, and then Nickel metal hydride came out and it looked like that was the answer. But each time, it was 'almost' -- 'almost, almost...' and I *almost* gave up. I almost thought I was going to be too old before the technology got here, and fortunately, my energy an the technology happened to come in time when we were both ready.

[BM] { 19:48 }
Oh, great, wonderful. So, can you share with us some of the technical specifications that you're setting up for this vehicle? What kind of EV range you're looking for, battery pack size, some of these things?

[MB] { 19:58 }
Absolutely, here's what we're doing. The base price vehicle is going to have 40 miles off the plug and then a 60 horse-power engine will operate at an ideal RPM -- let's call it 3,000 right now, 3,000 RPM -- to fill up the batteries when the batteries are 60% depleted, so your range with a 10-gallon tank will be approximately 800 miles plus. Alright, we're intending for this vehicle, we have an engine which we think is pretty revolutionary, and the first round we'll have a 300 horse-power electric motor, which is the equivalent of about 450 horse-power, we are contemplating upgrading that to hub wheels with as much as 200hp per wheel, giving 800hp and about 1200 as a really -- you want to be macho? Here's macho, but [it doesn't] come at [the cost of] degrading of the environment, because we'll put in maybe double batteries there, so your range will be about 80 miles until it comes down, and that will cover approximately 90% of all the trips in the United States. When you want to go on your long trip, you just go on your long trip, and the disadvantage is you're not going to get 100 maybe 120 miles per gallon, you're only going to get about 80. But all in all, you're going to get fabulous mileage and it's going to be clean, because it's all-electric; that motor is not driving the car -- it's always refilling the batteries. As I said, the specs of the car will be the size of a Mercedes S, exactly -- except for the width, which will be closer to a Lamborghini

[BM] { 21:20 }
Ok, is that a little wider, or a little [slimmer]?

[MB] { 21:31 }
A little wider.

[BM] { 21:33 }
Alright, great. And the engine?

[MB] { 21:35 }
The reason we're doing that by the way is because everybody says, 'Oh, yeah, electric -- that means you've got to build little cars.' That's [BS]! Although, I shouldn't be saying that [on the air]... It's a bunch of baloney and there's no need for that -- and we're going to prove once and for all that electric can go anywhere and can be better than anything in performance and environment and in your pocket book.

[BM] { 21:54 }
Ok, now the engine in this, will that be a flexible-fuel capable engine so that you can burn

[MB] { 22:00 }
Absolutely, absolutely. I mean, look -- what we're trying to do is make this a car that has no excuses. It's not, "You gotta buy electric, but..." you have to worry about range, or you have to worry about this. None of that is going to be in this car. We're going to show everybody once and for all that this makes the most sense because it makes the most sense, not because you're going to have to do without something. You know, you've been pushing electric for a long time and I know the frustration of you know everybody wants it, you know everybody should have it, but it just doesn't seem to be coming fast enough? Well, I think finally everything is now the perfect storm and I think finally, you and all the other people who have been wanting and pushing and hoping are going to see it's going to start happening.

[BM] { 22:50 }
Oh, that's great. One of the big issues, of course, that's going to be with any plug-in hybrid, or even an all-electric vehicle is going to be the issue regarding the battery warranty on this. What's your thinking in this particular area?

[MB] { 23:03 }
Well, look... you can say anything you want, but we're going to warranty the battery for a quarter of a million miles. That'll put our money where our mouth is, and if there's a problem, it's our problem, not your problem.

[BM] { 23:18 }
How important do you think electric vehicles are going to be here over the next 20 years, and I'm kind of curious -- I hope you've seen the National Petroleum Council Report -- what your thoughts are on the hard truths about energy?

[MB] { 23:32 }
Well, here's what I believe. I believe utilities are set up to sell a lot of nighttime fuel without having to worry about having to put in anything new. It's obvious utilities don't buy much foreign oil, which makes me very happy, and in my humble opinion, I think ten years from today, well over half of the vehicles sold in the United States are going to be electric or electric plug-in hybrids.

[BM] { 23:54 }
Within a decade?

[MB] { 23:56 }
Within a decade.

[BM] { 23:58 }
Wow. I hope so,

[MB] { 24:00 }
Here's what I think. As soon as everybody sees that we can produce what we say, and we do it in mass numbers, and we offer our technology to anybody who wants it -- from General Motors down to the guy in the street that says 'I got the money, I'm going to go build a car.' -- I think everybody's going to push, I think the governments are going to finally push, I think the people are going to push with there pocketbook.

[BM] { 24:21 }
Any plans for an all-electric vehicle?

[MB] { 24:24 }
Not at this moment, for this reason. Even though our battery is going to be charged with a powerful charger in ten minutes, I have a mental problem of... well, I may have a mental problem also (laughter)... of getting in a car that has a limit... and it says that 'oh my god, if that battery runs out, how do I give it a jolt to move forward?' It scares me a little, and although you have to add more money to put a small engine in to refill it, it's actually less money than it costs for more batteries. So until something happens, like maybe capacitors, that can charge [inaudible], I'm going stick personally to building electric hybrid plug-ins. But if people come up with a pure electric car like Tesla or Phoenix and they want to sell them in mass and they want to use our technology, then we'll offer our dealer network to sell them.

[BM] { 25:16 }
Ok, that sounds wonderful. Ok, the final question for you. Reuters asked you about your milestones in this project. Are you still comfortable with the late 2009 launch for the vehicle?

[MB] { 25:28 }
No... I think, based on everything that everybody's telling me, that it's probably going to be early '10. I think we'll have plenty of cars coming off the line in nine, but I think because we really really have to pay attention to not having bugs in there, I've been told that I should spend an extra six months just driving everything that comes off the line and get the bugs out before they end up for sale, and I think they're right. Even though I'd love to get it out there.

[BM] { 25:48 }
Ok, right, I think the follow-on to that was are you going to do any kind of early consumer road-testing types of things. Something we had to look forward to with the Escape, so...

[MB] { 26:00 }
Well, you'll get a car, and you're going to test it, and tell us what the heck you think we ought to do! You're one of the pioneers out there.

[BM] { 26:05 }
Ok, I'm going to hold you to that, Malcolm... [laughing]

[MB] { 26:10 }
I expect you to, Bill.

[BM] { 26:12 }
Ok, great. Well, we've had with us on the telephone today, Malcolm Bricklin -- Malcolm is the head of Visionary Vehicles and it certainly is a vision that he has here to introduce high-performance, luxury electric vehicles at a price I think that just about anybody in the western world can afford. Thank you, Malcolm, and keep up the good work...

[MB] { 26:32 }
One last thing, Bill. One more thought, Bill -- my son Johnathan, who is working with us and has been filming everything we're talking about by the way, for now the last couple of years, so he's documented everything. We've just put up a website, http://www.VVcars.com , and it sort of tells, we're going to start keeping the public abreast, actually showing them what we're doing, so the people who really give a darn in the electric world can really go there and we're going to start exposing all the things we're doing. We're not going to keep things secret -- we're going to let it out there so people can see our progress, see where we're going, see what we're doing, and those who want to get involved. we're going to just invite. Because this is a project that a person can't do -- this is a project that everybody's got to be involved in in order for it to work.

[BM] { 27:18 }
Right, excellent, very good. Malcolm, thank you. We will keep you -- I'm going to hold you to that promise of that test vehicle, so...

[MB] { 27:22 }
I expect that you will, Bill. I'm serious about it.

[BM] { 27:24 }
Ok, very good. Thank you, Malcolm.

[MB] { 27:26 }
Thank you Bill...

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