Clean Fleet Report Founder Looks Back—And Forward
We have seen amazing progress in cars, electrified transportation and in the future of mobility, since I started Clean Fleet Report in 2006. Oil usage peaked in 2006 in the United States and other developed nations and I reported 10 reasons.
What once was rare (the EV) is becoming more commonplace
Clean Fleet Report was started to showcase success in clean transportation. Fleets were five years ahead of the mass market. Although I could not find hundreds of electric vehicles in my neighborhood, at US Marine Corps Camp Pendleton I witnessed hundreds of electric vehicles being charged with solar power. They also had a large fleet of advanced diesel vehicles running on biofuel and even a hydrogen fuel cell pilot. In 2006, it took fleets to put in the charging or fueling infrastructure, stock the parts, secure the advanced diagnostics and training, and keep everything running.
Now my neighborhood streets include a steady stream of electric cars from Tesla, Chevrolet, BMW, Nissan, Ford and dozens of others. Since I live near Silicon Valley, where every automaker has an R&D center, I also see a number of autonomous vehicles clocking-up their millions of miles.
I still am in awe of the innovators and the fleet managers who devote years to working through all the issues so that we can all benefit from the technology breakthroughs.
The Circle of Life
I interviewed hundreds of people for my book, Save Gas, Save the Planet. One theme that emerged is many experience a “circle of life.” Their college was in a city with excellent transit and they lived car-free. Later, a job, a relationship or a dog necessitated their buying a car. Relationships blossomed and they had a car and a truck. Many raised children and worked longer hours to support three or four vehicles. Eventually, they retire, downsizing to two, then one, and finally zero cars.
Shared electric bikes are another mobility option
With children long grown, my wife and I replaced our two cars with one Chevrolet Volt. My mom is down to zero. In my book and in Clean Fleet Report, I surveyed the progress of hybrids, electrics, advanced fuels and integrated urban transportation. When the book was released in 2009, much of the technology looked cutting edge.
Naysayers dismissed electric cars as expensive golf carts. Now we have millions of electric cars, SUVs, buses and trucks. We have 150 million electric bicycles. My wife and I only have one electric car, but two electric bikes, and frequently travel on electric buses and rail. Fleets continue to convert innovation into major success.
Another area of breakthrough success is in smart cities around the world. The future of urban mobility is ACES: Autonomous, Connected, Electric, Shared.
For decades, we have used shared mobility in cities as we ride on buses, rail and on-demand ride-sharing options, including Uber and Lyft. Most major cities have metro rail and bus systems that enable people to travel faster.
We don’t know what the transportation future will look like, but we hope it will be ACES
Of our shared choices, rail moves the most; cars the least, with buses in between. Rail is laid down into fixed routes that last 40 to 100 years, yet cities grow and reshape organically. When people deboard transit one-quarter mile from their destination, most walk. But for the last one-to-three miles, on-demand services are needed. Smart cities have integrated these services of rail, bus, on demand, bicycling and walking.
Around 20 years ago, Toyota added an electric motor and advanced battery to a conventional car and introduced the hybrid Prius. Success in hybrid cars led to hybrid heavy-duty vehicles such as buses and trucks. With the success of hybrids, plug-in vehicles were introduced, so that batteries could be charged from garage outlets or public chargers.
By 2025, Navigant expects 37 million electric vehicles (EVs) on the global roads, fueled by lithium battery costs falling from $1,000 per kWh in 2010 to $145 (GM’s price from LG Chem reports Car and Driver).
From electric cars to electric buses and electric rail, we are ending our dependence on gasoline and diesel powering 15 percent efficient drive systems and transitioning to local renewable energy powering 90 percent efficient electric drive systems. Mobility is increasingly powered by wind and solar, not from the extreme emissions from shale drilling and pipelines from tar sands. Millions of lives will be saved annually, now lost to lung damage from air pollution. Trillions will be saved in health care.
In most developed nations of the world, transit systems in major cities are connected with high-speed rail, which is pure electric. The planned 800-mile high-speed rail system for California will connect all major cities, 25 transit systems and run on 100 percent renewable energy. Those transit systems are planning on thousands of electric buses. Ridesharing providers are already adding electric cars to their fleets.
Drivers kill over a million annually, making the roads unsafe for other drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. Self-driving cars see better, using multiple cameras, lasers and 360-degree lidar. Self-driving cars are totally focused on driving; don’t text, bounce to music, drive after drinking, smoke dope or get distracted.
Sharing is becoming a real, growing option to car ownership; soon that shared car may pick you up instead of you picking it
Machine learning and big data will make full use of autonomous fleets during peak hours, routing them to the right places at the right times. In some cities, wireless charging will be used for the fleets of self-driving cars and shuttles. In others, the vehicles will drive themselves during off-peak hours to car washes and parking structures where they will be fast-charged.
The benefits of self-driving are hotly debated. A transportation authority, San Francisco CTA, states that the on-demand services have made the streets of SF more congested. Other studies conclude that on-demand leads to fewer cars and more transit use. After analyzing the data from three million taxi rides, MIT calculated that 2,000 on-demand 10-person vans in New York CIty could replace 14,000 taxis. MIT researchers also estimate that successful use of ride-share apps like Uber and Lyft could reduce the number of vehicles on the road by a whopping 75 percent without slowing down travel.
We will have autonomous cars, buses and trucks. Vancouver even has electric self-driving Skytrain monorail.
Put a price on carbon, congestion zones and vehicle miles traveled during peak hours, and most urban transportation will not be solo drivers. It will be in electric and autonomous shared rides like Lyft Lines, Waymo and Waze (Alphabet companies) shuttle vans, autonomous buses and rail. Autonomous vehicles will save lives, insurance rates will drop, hospital bills will drop, urban housing will be more affordable without requirements of one and two spaces per unit. ACES mobility improves urban density.
When I listen to debates about autonomous vehicles, I am reminded of similar debates 10 years ago about electric vehicles. EVs were predicted to add massive congestion, use nothing but coal power, eliminate jobs and cause recessions by reducing petroleum demand. None of these alarming forecasts happened.
We were making a long and painful drive back from Los Angeles to San Francisco in heavy traffic. On the freeway, in the middle an empty desert, my Android Auto navigation told me that I could save 37 minutes by taking the next exit. I almost dismissed the direction as an error, but I trusted Google Maps and took the exit. As we drove 12 miles on a windy sideroad, I looked at the I-5 freeway in complete gridlock, due to a major accident. After 12 miles, we were directed back on the freeway, indeed saving 37 minutes.
Your car is now connected to the world and can help you navigate through it
Google could see the speed of thousands of Google Map users at that GPS location. In my Google Map settings, I had given permission to reroute me based on traffic information. Google’s sophisticated algorithms saved me valuable time. Tomorrow, similar apps will guide us through our day of interconnected services making best use of rail, transit, car, and some healthy walking.
Leading cities are already using ACES – autonomous, connected, electric, and shared mobility. Look for high growth in smart cities. ACES brings us mobility that is safe, pollution-free, healthy and less expensive.
Congratulations to all who have made a difference these past 12 years. Engineers have dramatically improved drive systems. Software wizards have transformed cars into networks of supercomputers on wheels.
Congratulations to Michael Coates, who has been running Clean Fleet Report these last three years and to his team, which keeps you updated about today’s most efficient cars and tomorrow’s most intelligent transportation. Most important are all the readers from fleet managers and car owners who take the best information and ideas and put them into action.
Welcome To Space Age Transportation
We have driven the future—and it feels a lot like today. We recently drove the production version of the 2017 Honda Clarity, the third entry in the hydrogen fuel cell field (after the Hyundai Tuscon and the market leader, Toyota Mirai). It’s a real car that should help move fuel cell cars incrementally closer to the automotive mainstream.
A normal, functional, high-tech dash
Let’s move past the old narrative that hydrogen fuel cell cars are the transportation of the future—and always will be—and focus on the cars available today. The Honda Clarity demonstrates the exciting aspect of this technology, but also shows the struggle these “future” cars have to fit into the mainstream.
This is the third generation of Honda’s fuel cell cars (the fuel cell “engines” have gone through many more generations during the 20 years of development as all new technologies do). The Gen 1 was the Honda Plus FCEV, which used the company’s electric car platform to get early models out on the road for testing. It was a mundane package, but it drove great.
The second generation, now named Clarity, was a big car, great-looking in the subdued Honda style, but still not ready for prime time. A few were made available for lease to select fuel cell enthusiasts. When we drove it, much like our experience with the first generation, it impressed us with the refinement of it as a functional car. It was fast, smooth and felt ready to hit the showroom.
Now we have Gen 3–also Honda Clarity. It is all new, a more radical design than the previous generation, but still governed by Honda’s conservative approach. It also feels identical to a mainstream Honda in every way except its powertrain. The tip-off that we’re still not in the mainstream comes if you really want to buy one–you still can’t at Honda (the Toyota Mirai can be purchased). For now, the Clarity is a lease-only vehicle, like the Mirai only available in the areas of California that have the initial stations of the still nascent fueling network.
It’s got a look of the future
The advances through the years have shrunk the fuel cell stack size, increased its power and durability and reduced its costs. That’s great, but this advancement also has precipitated a dramatic redesign with each generation since optimal packaging is necessary to reduce weight and make sure the performance is at the top of its game. Challenging doesn’t begin to describe it. It’s not a problem for a concept car every couple years, but for volume production, that’s a big hurdle. It’s one that will likely keep all fuel cell cars at small volumes until the engineers feel like they’ve got a package that will attract a larger audience.
Smaller, but more powerful
So what’s an automaker to do. Put a stake in the ground and launch. Hyundai took a short cut, dropping a fuel cell powertrain in its Tucson SUV and hitting the market first. It also was only available for lease. Toyota followed with a bigger splash—the purpose-designed Mirai, which incorporated some Prius styling hints/synergy, but it is clearly its own vehicle. And you can purchase as well as lease it.
Now comes Honda. Rather than carry forward with the slick, if not instantly recognizable design of the Clarity, Honda laid out a course like its rival Toyota with a unique, edgy design. It works. Of course, the company has announced it’s sharing that design with new battery electric and plug-in hybrid models, but it should help make a mark.
For all its future technology under the hood, the 2017 Honda Clarity drives like most contemporary electric cars. It’s responsive with great low-end torque. The true five-passenger, four-door sedan comes well-equipped with all of the modern technology expected in a car, such as a dual-zone climate control, an infotainment system that includes a 540-watt/12-speaker audio system and an eight-inch high-res touch screen with navigation that includes hydrogen refueling stations. Additionally, the system is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible. The fuel-cell vehicle also features the Honda Sensing package of safety equipment and the LaneWatch blind-spot monitoring system. You do lose some trunk space because of the hydrogen storage tank placed behind the back seat; the 11.8 cubic feet of trunk space in the Clarity is almost five cubic feet less than the subcompact Fit.
The trunk is sacrificed to the fuel tank
While it is an electric drive car, the Clarity has a 350+ mile range between fill-ups (one of the big advantages of a hydrogen-fueled electric car compared to a battery-powered one). The limitation, of course, is there are not that many fueling stations (28 are open in California as of this writing and that number is expected to double within a year or two). Less this cramp your style, Honda and its competitors include free fuel in the price of their fuel cell cars.
The lease price of the Clarity is only a few dollars different than the Mirai, which is to be expected at this stage of the game. For those who qualify and live near the 12 California dealers that will be the initial market, the 2017 Honda Clarity can be leased for $369/month with $2,868 down. Not a bad deal to drive the future.
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Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.
Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class, which leads us to emphasize electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and diesels. We also feature those efficient gas-powered vehicles that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at email@example.com.
Electric & Fuel Cell Trucks Highlighted at Show
The 2017 ACT Expo, held earlier this month (May 1-4, 2017) in Long Beach, California, has always had the promotion of advanced clean transportation (hence it’s title) as its main focus. In the past, that focus has meant natural gas as the main alternative to diesel or gasoline in medium and heavy-duty vehicles.
This year’s show saw more buzz about electric and fuel cell trucks than in the past as some major companies are entering the market and several smaller ones have products in development.
BYD Electric Trucks
Top of the list is the Chinese automotive manufacturer BYD, best known in the U.S. for being 10 percent owned by Warren Buffet. The company, which started life as a battery company, has seen some success in China selling a variety of electric and non-electric cars. It is staking its future on electric power, showing a fully electric Class 8 refuse truck chassis at ACT Expo. The company also showcased a 60-foot articulated battery-powered transit bus (that model complements the company’s 30-, 35- and 40-foot buys currently available). Finally, BYD also showed a Class 8 battery electric terminal tractor.
BYD’s lineup of electric trucks
BYD pitched its electric models as capable of functioning alongside diesel or CNG models while saving on operating costs.
Kenworth Tests Two
Kenworth to test fuel cell big rig
Another major U.S truck manufacturer, Kenworth, used ACT Expo to announce its plans to build and test two variations of zero or near-zero emission heavy-duty trucks for port use. One will feature a fuel cell power train from Ballard creating electricity for a fuel-rotor electric motor. The second prototype will use a Cummings Westport ISL G near-zero ISL G natural gas engine to generate electricity for an electric motor the powers the truck. Both of these trucks are expected to be in operation in the fourth quarter of 2017 in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
This comes on the heels of Toyota showing off a Class 8 truck powered by a scaled up version of the fuel cell pack from Toyota’s Mirai sedan. Another fuel cell big rig from US Hybrid was also showcased at the 2017 ACT Expo.
Workhorse Shows Two
The Workhorse W-15 aims to be the first mass-produced plug-in hybrid pickup
A startup company, Workhorse, also grabbed some headlines at ACT Expo. The busy company introduced a prototype plug-in hybrid pickup, along with a partnership with Ryder System on that pickup and also announced orders for separate electric delivery vans for UPS that are designed to work with drones for the final step of package delivery. Workhorse introduced the W-15 plug-in hybrid half-ton pickup and said that it had received more than 2,150 letters of intent to buy the vehicle, which will feature an 80-mile all-electric range. The company also announced it has delivered a hydrogen fuel cell-powered chassis for a DOE (Department of Energy) project.
UPS also showed off its first hydrogen fuel cell-powered Class 6 delivery vehicle, which will be deployed in Sacramento, Calif., to validate its design and performance. If that initial deployment is successful, additional trucks will be built.
At Clean Fleet Report we don’t believe there is any point in going in depth on the details on these prototype and future potential vehicles. The path to this point is littered with companies with stories similar to those above, all of which never reached a point of becoming a successful vehicle or company. The point is not whether technologies like fuel cells or battery power or plug-in technology can be applied in the heavy-duty truck segment, but whether these advanced technologies can be commercially viable. We’re not saying we have yet reached a tipping point in a shift to heavy-duty electric vehicles, but the movement and advances in that area reached a high water mark at the 2017 ACT Expo.
That said, we’ll be following these developments closely and will report on those vehicles and companies which have news, keeping in mind the bigger picture of both the overall market and how these new technologies might find a home there.
F1, IndyCar and NASCAR Lead The Way
Car racing and the environment: an oxymoron? Not so much as you would think. The world of motorsports has a challenging task to reduce racing’s ecological footprint while raising the public’s perception of racing. Therefore, any incremental steps, wherever possible, add-up to significant progress in lessening the environmental impact of car racing.
Just because it’s green, it doesn’t mean it’s slow or lacking in drama
Motorsports is a $13.5 billion business and the greening-up of auto racing is the newest twist in cars that go fast. Technology advances made in tires, fuels, oils and vehicles (such as electric and hybrid) have already reached the cars we buy at our local dealership. Race teams are staffed with degree-holding engineers, many of whom could have worked in aerospace or other technology fields, but chose motorsports. The result is fast-paced entertainment that also is a leader in environmental awareness.
The top sanctioning bodies of NASCAR, IndyCar and F1 are all getting their green act together. The largest of these in the United States are NASCAR and IndyCar. NASCAR COO Brent Dewar says his program’s green program has made “an industry commitment to demonstrate high-performance racing with reduced emissions.”
Tracks and Teams Join the Green Push
Both organizations encourage tracks and teams to also lessen their environmental footprint. This has resulted in solar panel installation at some tracks. For example, Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania is 100-percent off the grid. Sonoma Raceway in California uses solar for power, sheep for landscaping, and even has an organic garden for race weekend hospitality. Race teams are onboard using solar and geothermal for heating and cooling, capture and recycle oil, gasoline and water, and employ solar-powered generators to reduce CO2 emissions.
The green push in motorsports usually starts with the fuel
The next extension of the green movement is the cars themselves. Both IndyCar and NASCAR use E85 (85-percent ethanol/15-percent gasoline), which is similar, but a higher octane blend than is available for street cars. Jaye Frye, president of competition and operations at IndyCar, proudly says that they were the “first motorsports series to use a renewable fuel.”
In contrast, F1 cars run on gasoline very similar to what we can buy at the pump. One difference with F1 cars is that their brakes run the Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS), which stores energy to drive an electric motor to provide a horsepower boost to the gasoline engine. These hybrid systems are quite complex, but the technology is amazing and related to the hybrids we see on the road everyday.
The Most Innovative Race Series
The most innovative of all race series is Formula E, which campaigns open-wheeled cars like IndyCar and F1, but are powered completely by electricity. Once you get past the sensation of little sound coming from the cars as they whizz by on the track, you begin to appreciate the innovation
The sound may be minimal, but Formula E maxes out the racing excitement
and technology taking place with this series. Each of the 10 teams has two drivers, who use two cars in each race. The cars are switched at the midway point of the race as, at least for the 2017 season, the batteries cannot last the entire race at full power. With 0-60 times of three seconds and a top speed of 140 mph, the Formula E cars race within inches of not only each other, but the concrete walls and barriers constructed on temporary city circuits. In the near future, teams will only need one car for a full race as battery technology is quickly catching up to racing.
So, next time you are flipping channels and see car racing, give it a second look. To the non-racing fan, it may seem like an endless and possibly pointless endeavor of driving around and around. Actually, it’s a real-world scientific testing lab right before our eyes where advancements in fuel, engine efficiency, kinetic energy capture and electric motors and batteries are being conducted that will eventually, and in some cases already are, be in the next car you’ll be driving.
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GM Offers a Diesel a VW Owner Can Love
As most of you have probably heard, Volkswagen recently came under international fire when it was discovered that they had knowingly programmed their diesel vehicles to pass emissions tests, but then default to a more-polluting mode for regular driving. Because of this, Volkswagen TDI vehicles are off the market in the U.S. Some may be updated, but most are likely to be scrapped and VW is ambivalent at best about returning to the market with a diesel product.
An interior aiming for European style & American tech
So what do you buy if you are in the market for a compact diesel sedan? Unexpectedly, the answer comes not from Europe or Japan, but from right here in America.
First available in 2014, the Chevrolet Cruze Diesel has been on the market for about three years. The revised 2017 model will be offered with a new engine as well as two body styles: sedan and hatchback (later this year as a 2018 model).
The new 1.6-liter turbodiesel engine, developed by GM’s Opel subsidiary in Europe, produces 137 horsepower and 240 pounds-feet of torque. The Cruze Diesel will be available with either a six-speed manual transmission or a nine-speed automatic transmission.
A new badge for fuel efficiency
Cruze Hits the Magic 50 MPG
Fuel economy is the main party piece of any diesel vehicle, and Chevrolet has upped fuel economy from the previous generation. With the six-speed manual, the Cruze Diesel has an EPA-estimated 52 mpg highway/30 mpg city/37 mpg combined; while the nine-speed automatic transmission has an EPA-estimated 47 mpg highway/31 mpg city/37 mpg combined. Range for the new Cruze Diesel is also up from the previous model at 702 miles.
Also new for 2017 is GM’s recent announcement on biodiesel capability for their diesel vehicles.
“With biodiesel production and retail distribution expanding, and so many proven benefits, we believe more fleets will embrace the technology as part of their sustainability plans,” says John Schwegman, director of commercial product and medium duty for GM Fleet. “If our diesel customers fueled exclusively with [biodiesel], we estimate that consumption of petroleum-based fuels could be reduced by hundreds of millions gallons annually.”
Pricing for the 2017 Cruze Diesel will start at $24,670 with a manual transmission, when it goes on sale this spring.
The diesel Cruze will come in sedan and hatchback
Despite diesel vehicle sales being down in the U.S. in 2016, largely due to Volkswagen’s exit from the market, Chevrolet decided to jump in and fill the gap with its all new Cruze Diesel. The company has also launched diesel versions of its Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain crossovers as well as the compact Colorado pickup.
Some Say – See You in Court
Despite this, the launch of the 2017 Cruze Diesel could be tainted by the announcement of a lawsuit brought against Chevrolet recently.
According to Hagens Berman, the law firm behind the case against Chevrolet, “U.S. District Judge Thomas L. Ludington, overseeing the GM “Clean Diesel” litigation, upheld claims brought by owners of GM-branded Chevy Cruze diesel vehicles related to GM’s use of a defeat device to evade emissions regulations.”
Whether or not Chevrolet used cheat devices similar to those used by Volkswagen is still very much in question, as this lawsuit, unlike the one brought against Volkswagen, has only nine plaintiffs. It is also important to note that the claims of emissions cheating only apply to the previous generation Cruze Diesel, and not to the new 2017 model. Finally, we’d add that unlike VW, which admitted it had installed “defeat devices” in its TDI models, General Motors is contesting these claims. We’ll have to wait and see how both the market and the courts sort this out.
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The Choice Is Out There
The many drawbacks and limitations of a conventional vehicle are a growing cause of concern among many prospective car and truck buyers. From selecting the right personal vehicle to businesses that are interested in fleet vehicle solutions that may help to reduce overhead and operational costs, environmentally-friendly cars may have much to offer. Investing in a hybrid vehicle, a car or a truck designed to make use of alternative fuels or even a purely electric vehicle can reduce both the environmental impact that drivers have whenever they operate their vehicle as well as reducing fuel costs.
Cars like the all-electric Chevy Bolt are giving folks new options
Finding ways to reduce operational costs is a popular concern among many drivers. From investing in a more dependable vehicle to seeking out a quality used parts, there are plenty of ways to reduce the costs associated with owning a vehicle. One of the chief benefits of hybrid-electric and alternative-energy vehicles is their more efficient fuel consumption, which may allow owners to enjoy a level of savings far superior than what would be possible with even the most efficient conventional engine. Upgrading to a greener, more energy-efficient vehicle can allow owners to save more at the pump than they might have thought possible.
Sustainable Transportation Solutions
Conventional vehicles produce quantities of harmful emissions that are often far higher than many drivers and vehicle owners realize. Alternatives to conventional vehicles, such as hybrid-electric, plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles, can drastically reduce or even eliminate the emissions created by internal combustion engines. Drivers who are seeking ways to create a greener and more sustainable lifestyle would do well to select vehicles designed to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and that create harmful emissions.
Future Trends and Emerging Technologies
More choices are coming as fuel cell cars like the Toyota Mirai come on the market
When it comes to environmentally-friendly cars, today’s consumers have access to a greater range of choices and options than ever before. New technologies, such as hydrogen-fuel cells, next-generation battery systems and even self-driving cars are poised to create nothing short of a revolution within the automotive industry. From new innovations that may offer a greater range of potential benefits and advantages to existing technology that is rapidly becoming more affordable, keeping pace with the latest trends and developments can ensure that prospective vehicle owners are able to more easily find and select a vehicle that will better meet their needs. From lowering operational costs to reducing the size of a driver’s carbon footprint, investing in a more sustainable and eco-friendly car is an option prospective buyers would be wise to consider.
Environmentally friendly cars are definitely well worth the expense. They are a great way to help save the planet and really make a difference. All you have to do is find the best possible green car for you.
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