By on December 20, 2011

My two weeks in Europe has drawn to a close, and I’m back at my familiar desk, in front of my familiar computer, catching up on all the automotive happenings I missed, contemplating my transition out of TTAC’s day-to-day leadership, and reflecting on all I saw over my whirlwind two weeks. And though you haven’t heard from me much in the last two weeks, rest assured that I have  not forgotten TTAC, nor have I missed any opportunities to accumulate impressions from the automotive landscape of modern Europe.

This week I will publish two reviews of the automobiles I drove over the last two weeks, and though neither of these cars are available in the US, I believe they both hold fascinating lessons that are highly applicable and relevant to both the US market and the global auto business. But in the meantime I thought I’d share this picture, which would be near impossible to take in the US, and which speaks volumes about the evolution of small cars. Just blocks from Paris’s Place de la Concorde, in front of Chanel’s flagship Parisian boutique, I was able to capture a classic and modern Mini, with a Smart ForTwo sandwiched in between for scale.

I’ll leave commentary on this image to TTAC’s Best and Brightest, but I will say that the tableau stopped me in my tracks. Though I’ve always loved the classic Mini, and I have only the deepest admiration for those who keep these wonderful cars in daily use, this image confirms just how much our automotive expectations have changed. If you think a Smart makes undue compromises in the pursuit of its city-friendly size, imagine what an original Mini must be like in today’s traffic….

 

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55 Comments on “What’s Wrong With This Picture: A Mini’s Progress Edition...”


  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    We’d better get accustomed to it…if the current administration has their way, the great mass of Americans will be driving cars of that size day in and day out….

    • 0 avatar
      Lemmy-powered

      Like Caterhams?

      You seem like a fun guy. I want you at my dinner party.

    • 0 avatar
      mike978

      You just couldn`t resist could you? Ed has a great photo and article and you have to ruin it.
      To answer your assertion – are we driving around in those cars after 3 years of the current administration? No. Is gas more expensive now than in summer of 2008? No. Has Government part ownership of GM led it to make only fuel efficient vehicles? No, see Camaro ZL1 as an example or any Cadillac V series car. This doesn`t mean I support Government part ownership, just looking at facts.

      Lets just appreciate the photo and I am looking forward to seeing what two cars have been reviewed in the next week or so.

      • 0 avatar
        VanillaDude

        You cherry picked those prices.

        Gee, I wish your facts reflected reality better.

        It is fine for an administration to strive for better vehicles, the way to get better vehicles is to let us decide what is better. Not them.

    • 0 avatar
      TEXN3

      I’m honestly okay with a compact car for around town. Don’t really need anything more. I like my two mid-size vehicles, but only 1 of them hauls the kiddos around on a regular basis. However, the economics dictate that I should keep my current vehicles and save money.

      • 0 avatar
        forraymond

        +100 Thanks Mike.

        I get so tired of hearing that crap about Obama. He is playing the cards he was dealt and fortunately for all of us, he didn’t fold.

      • 0 avatar
        VanillaDude

        Yeah, the President is right.

        He has been completely powerless over the past four years due to the 30 more votes the opposition got less than a year ago in 1/2 of the Congress. He just can’t get anything done without complete veto-proof control like before. The Executive and Judicial branches are not enough. Well, that and the Senate too. That’s not enough. No. He doesn’t have those 30 more votes in the House. Without complete controlling authority, you can’t blame a President.

        OH wait. We normally do.

      • 0 avatar
        mike978

        Vanilla – for the record I was not defending the current administration. Just correcting factual errors in Mark’s assertion. Also for the record, I agree with mark that we shouldn’t be “forced” into smaller cars. Although Ed makes the fair point that in the past much smaller cars were considered family cars which we wouldn’t even consider nowadays.

      • 0 avatar
        jmo

        I agree with mark that we shouldn’t be “forced” into smaller cars.

        That’s fine, just as long as everyone promises that if an Arab Spring breaks out in Saudi Arabia and gas hits $9.00 everyone just shuts up about it and doesn’t demand the government do anything. You can’t afford food and gas to get to work because you bought an F-150 – boo f*cking hoo.

    • 0 avatar
      Feds

      There is a very straightforward argument that suggests we can not return to cars of the original Mini’s footprint-to-interior-volume ratio due to increasing government safety requirements and consumer safety expectations.

      Who manages the government side? NHTSA. Who was president in 1970 when NHTSA was created? NIXON. Nixon is impeding my freedom to buy a tiny tin box to schlep my family around in. Nixon was a republican president. Therefore, Republicans hate freedom. QED.

    • 0 avatar
      tankinbeans

      I’m not going to insert myself in a wiener contest because they’re pointless. My only perspective on the political “discussions” on the web is that everybody says the same exact things about the presidents they hate.

      I don’t get involved because, quite frankly, I find it a boring waste of time. Bush was president and was the devil, according to liberals. Obama is president and is a Nazi (devil by another word), according to conservatives. Nobody changes their mind, but many people have to take every opportunity to turn something into politics.

      Carry on.

      • 0 avatar
        fvfvsix

        tank-

        Isn’t it great how both sides jump like lemmings to criticize each other’s choice in a President, but the policies (and general direction the country is headed in) NEVER change? You’d think politically aware people on both the left and the right would be smarter.

    • 0 avatar
      fincar1

      If the current administration had its way we would all be living in section 8 housing and riding transit.

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      Don’t blame me, I voted for Kodos.

  • avatar

    Mark: Politics aside, I think this picture proves just how much our automotive expectations have grown. The Mini was once a small but legitimate family vehicle; now the the considerably larger MINI would never be considered by anyone with even one very young child. A photo of modern and original Fiat 500s would have made this point better, although I was not blessed with the opportunity to photograph them side-by-side. My father still remembers whole families piling into his aunt’s Puch-branded Cinquecento for trips up into the alps… now the 500 is little more than a fashion nugget for childless singles.

    I’m not for the government “forcing” cars on the market, nor does anyone else appear to be (including the current administration, as witnessed by the existence of the ZL1, CTS-V, and the forthcoming generation of full-sized GM trucks and SUVs)… but I think this picture proves that on some level, we as consumers might do well to see our automotive needs in a broader historical context.

    • 0 avatar
      Feds

      Car seats. Car Seats. Car Seats.

      A Protege5 is not a viable family car if you have any kids under the age of 1, or 2 or more kids simultaneously under the age of 8.

      The rear facing car seat can not be installed unless the front seat is all the way forward, meaning anyone over 5’6″ can’t get in. Put 2 seats (even boosters) side by side, and only 2 fit across the car.

      You could definitely get more people into a car when you could get away with a layer of kids on top of a layer of adults across the full width of any seating surface, plus whoever would fit in the hatch. Not that I spent much time riding in the hatch of a rented Fiat with my 2 sisters for impact absorption… Only a month or so.

      • 0 avatar
        Lemmy-powered

        +1. Not enough car reviews bother to mention the critical seatback-to-seatback dimension that either makes or breaks a car’s suitability for today’s families.

        My Legacy wagon FAILS this test.

      • 0 avatar
        Sam P

        Lemmy, I think you’re buying the wrong car seats. A good friend drives an ’01 Outback wagon (the same body as your Legacy with no different in rear seat space) and he and his wife have a 13 month old daughter who is still in a rear facing seat.

        Their other car? ’09 Jetta sedan. And they’re expecting their second kid in spring 2012.

    • 0 avatar
      VanillaDude

      The Smart is a real attempt at meeting today’s standards. It represents a government’s ideal, which is obviously not reality. The MINI represents today’s attempt at building a MINI. The difference between the old and new MINI is not a reflection of what we expect of a small car, but what we expect, plus the MINI legacy, plus the demands placed upon car makers through a meddling government.

      Government cars used to be JEEPS. Remember them? Can they meet today’s government standards? Market standards? Market reality?

      What goes on in Europe, can often stay in Europe. Germany is the size of Montana. France is the size of Texas. From there, these countries dwindle down to the size of a tennis court. Each with their own language. Each with their own culture. What kind of daily demands are there in The Netherlands for a car? (See DAF).

      I love Europe. But I’m not going to demand that Americans strive to be like them. That would suck.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      Piffle. I know at least two people who have small children and drive current Minis. You just have to buy better car seats than the usual cheap crap from Walmart. Or better yet, leave the little snot monkeys at home.

      • 0 avatar
        Lemmy-powered

        Fuddle-duddle. You know not of what you speak, friend. You know not of what you speak.

        Rear-facing car seats, even the good ones, render the front seats unusable for tall adults in anything that does not have a large rear seat space. Period.

        Front-facing seats and boosters are not the problem.

        And anyone who regularly hoists a baby into/outta a rear-facing baby seat in back of a 2-door is a masochist or contortionist.

        Go have a kid or two. You’ll see what I mean.

      • 0 avatar
        JJ

        Rear-facing car seats seem weird to me in the first place. What’s the reasoning behind it? I don’t see why it would necessarily be safer (unless maybe if they are meant for cars where you can’t turn off the passanger airbag)? Why not let your kid face the world passing him/her by like normal?

      • 0 avatar
        Sam P

        Lemmy-powered’s statement is incorrect.

        Rear facing car seats do fit in Mini Coopers. Not the Countryman SUV thing, the Mini Cooper hatchback. He probably doesn’t own one and hasn’t ever sat in the rear seat of one. My wife owns a new ’12 R56 Cooper hatch, and I (at 5’10″) can fit comfortably in the back seat when my 5’5″ wife drives. The rear seat is actually decently sized; it just looks much smaller than it is.

        Don’t believe me? Check out this thread on a car seat forum.

        http://www.car-seat.org/showthread.php?t=40989

        One mom’s post:

        “My son is 24 pounds and rear-facing in a Roundabout in my Mini Cooper.

        I’ll most likely be upgrading to a Mini Clubman later this year with the arrival of our second child. My son LOVES the car. For rear-facing, you do need to put the seat on the passenger’s side, then enter through the driver’s side and sit back there to buckle the child in. The good thing is, the car is big enough that getting in and out of the back seat isn’t a problem. If I can do it pregnant, anyone can do it! “

      • 0 avatar
        Lemmy-powered

        JJ — an infant’s body is not yet strong enough to withstand being restrained by belts during a heavy impact. Takes nearly two years for it to be so. Once my little one can face forward, she will. And she’ll have her window down, smelling the fresh-cut hay with a big smile on her face.

        Sam P, you’ve missed the point. You can fit a rear-facing car seat in almost any car, but in most smaller cars you have to move the front seat forward so much that the front seat becomes useless. Not a big deal with the first kid, but a huge deal with the second one. You’ll see.

      • 0 avatar
        Sam P

        Well, a 5’6″ adult (taller than my wife) can fit in the passenger seat of a Mini with a rear facing kid seat installed behind said passenger seat. See post:

        http://www.car-seat.org/showpost.php?p=1657567&postcount=13

        If my wife and I decide to have a rugrat (which is up in the air at this time, being DINKs is kind of nice right now) at least we wouldn’t have to dump the Mini, which my wife loves and plans to keep for years.

  • avatar
    Advance_92

    I’m impressed you were able to find an original Mini in Paris.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      Note that the “original” Mini was built into the ’90s. They are certainly not hard to find anywhere in Europe.

      • 0 avatar
        JJ

        They are not that common. They were built almost to the point where the original New MINI was introduced but it made its own tiny niche all by itself. It’s a pretty rare sight, particularly in some parts of Europe. The MINI OTOH, you can find on every street corner from tiny villages to big cities.

  • avatar
    Feds

    Way way back in ’03 I spent a month in Europe. I have very strong memories of my ride home from YYZ: Look how HUGE these cars are! How does ANYONE justify owning an F-150?

    Ultimately, we do it because we can afford it. Gas is very cheap here, so our cars can be substantially bigger. Bigger cars->bigger car seats->bigger strollers, and soon two full sized people with one 15 lb baby can’t drive anything other than a 300 hp Caravan.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      Your ride home from YYZ? I think Canada drives smaller cars (on average) than the US does.

      What was really weird was my first flight home from Europe in 1979, there was a much larger difference in the size of average cars then. The taxis at JFK looked like yellow limousines.

      Everything we drove here looked like a barge after cramming myself into various cars my European relatives drove…

    • 0 avatar
      Acubra

      You should also keep in mind the space / population density, distances and lifestyle.
      Also, whenever I arrive to GTA from calgary, I immediately notice that the bulk of vehicles are small/medium sized passenger cars and small crossovers. Very few trucks and far less minivans than here.

  • avatar

    Oh well. Don’t know if America is heading into smallcardom, but the fact is you all have had it pretty good for a while now. Down here, a car such as the Fiat Palio or VW Gol, which are a hair bigger than the New Mini, often serve family duty (though they are surely better packaged in terms of space than the fashonista Mini). If a guy can manage it, a Fiat Siena or a VW Voyage (sedans derived from the hatches mentioned before) will do just fine.

    Renault now offers the Sandero and Logan, which have more interior space than a Corolla or Civic for a price equivalent to those Fiats and VWs. As a result, it has climbed into 5th place in sales and in cities such as Rio and possibly mine, they have overtaken 4th from Ford. The old “Brazilian” Big 4 is no more.

    What this proves is that yes, families need space and those who offer it at the lowest price will get sales (ala Versa in US). However, after at least 30 years of subcompacts, there are those who cherish them and see their advantages. Many empty nesters, besides singletons and young drivers, buy one of them. A culture has developed around them

    though the norm is, more money more car, even here some are seeing the advantages of the less is more philosophy. Less cost, less taxes, less attention, less haggle. Easy parking. Easy city driving. So, they are not going away anytime soon. People now just load them up with luxury features and on they roll

    • 0 avatar
      Acubra

      I guess there are two major reasons to the predominance of tiny rattleboxes in Brazil: a) poverty and b) road tax that increase with engine size/car weight or size, just like in EU.
      As well your importation regs should be pretty tough and restrictive.
      Correct?

      • 0 avatar

        Yes, you are basically correct.

        Poverty, not erased and levels of miserable people is still frightening but there has been major movement from D class to C class and E class into D. Remember, this market sold just 1.5 million cars 10 years ago and now is climbing above 3.5 million making it the dispute 4th place with Germany in world sales.

        Some say some parts of country are now on par with the likes of Portugal or Greece. Just sayin’.

        Now, I’d add letter c. There is a definite culture around the small car here. There are people whoi just prefer them. A Fiat Cincuecento can be bought for the same coin as Punto. It will soon sell more than that car or Polo. Fashion victims, well yes, but also people just don’t mind small cars that much. Itis a Brazilian fixture. And even if we go on growing and reach higher income level, I’ll bet the subcompact (to NA) or compact car (to Europeans) is here to stay.

    • 0 avatar
      VanillaDude

      I know I could learn to love Brazil if I was forced to live there. I bet I could even find things to love after a while – you know – that Stockholm Syndrome kicks in after a few months.

      Within six months I could find myself wearing a tiny thong in Rio with a lady addicted to plastic surgery who was once a man. But, you know, prettier than Chaz Bono.

      I’d want a Fiat Palio. Red. With a Brazilian flag on the back window. And a ranchero somewhere around Brazilia. I’d work for the government and, you know, make a little extra on the side, like most government workers – selling the office supplies.

      • 0 avatar

        You are a poet Vanilla Dude! Though a little exaggerated, ypu paint an eeringly accurate picture.

        I’d avoid the dude come dudette part though. Everything else seems about right.

        And naw, people like to paint flags of UK or those little Euro plate stickers on their cars. Only in the deep South do those gaucho dudes put little stickers of their home state (and not the country) on their flags. But they live in a different country anyways…

      • 0 avatar
        VanillaDude

        Gauchos! Ole! Like cowboys, but cowboys who put plantains in their black beans!

        Yeah, I forgot about that Euro-heritage thingy down there. So snobby. “I’m not really Brazilian, my family is from Venice, back when it was it’s own nation-state, about 200 years ago. We just have hung around Sao Paulo since 1862.”

        “See my bumper?”

      • 0 avatar

        Venice? Try Calabria or Sicily…

        And the gauchos have strange names like Weiner or Wagner or Ludwig. Never fear though, I’ve met more than a few Wellingtons, Nelsons, Licolns and Washingtons (as first names) in my time. Though the fashion nowadays seems to veer toward the Italian. There are quite a few babies coming into our world being named like Valentina or Enzo.

        Wannabees. But we’ll catch up oneday. Maybe in another 500 yrs but you’ll see. We’ll be first world one day!

    • 0 avatar
      Acubra

      Marcelo,
      The moment people in Brazil have enough dough and no punishing taxation, outside large cities the love for a small car will go the way of a dodo.

      • 0 avatar

        Acubra,
        Ha! That’s a tough one. We might (crossing fingers) eventuallly be making all that money but our interventionista, money-grabbing, wasteful and stupid government will go on for, oh well, forever!

        As a political scientist from the University of São Paulo, wrote, and coined, a lovely new phrase, Brazil is blessed (cursed?) with a confortable mediocrity. Our government is not Scandinavian but is sure as hell isn’t Zimabawean (with no disrepect intended)! People here are not as free as in US or Canda, but hey we ain’t North Korea! Our economy doesn’t perform like China but look how much better we arfe than Portugal! Our cars ain’t FirstWorld-rate but they certaily are better than in other God forgotten parts of the world (or so we believe)!

        That’s us Brazlians. Comfortably mediocre.

        Sounds like a Pink Floyd album, don’t it?

      • 0 avatar
        Acubra

        Sounds more like not entirely happy, but still pretty fair medium – as long as the general trend is right.
        And you would not want your economy to even closely resemble Chinese – with all the exploitation, disregard for environment, etc.
        Now you’d only have to remain stable and do something with big city crime – and your land will be much more attractive, tiny cars or not.

  • avatar
    JohnTheDriver

    Yes, someone in Paris is driving a mini. Clearly this is Obama’s fault! Any minute now the muslim-radical-christian-socialist-communist-terrorist Obama car conversion hit squads will fly to your driveway in their black helicopters and swap your suburban for a miata. Probably with some Obama-approved-government-regulation terror air freshener dangling from the rear view mirror. I’m beginning to think the best and brightest are … not so much. Personally, I’m looking forward to my new terror miata.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    I went to university there.
    I didn’t need a car.
    Everything is smaller.
    I was fine without a car and didn’t want one.

    When I returned, my friends attended university with me in Chicago. They didn’t want a car. Within a week they owned one. Why?

    You can’t go grocery shopping here without a car. A package of toilet paper is bigger than any damn bike basket. You want to risk your life on American roads without a car?

    People are people. They aren’t smarter in Europe. Their transportation needs are completely different. Their cities, roads, everything – is different. Not better, just different. Americans aren’t buying F-150s because they are stupid, or fat, or evil ignorant capitalist morons trapped by Big Oil. We buy these vehicles because our lives in America require bigger vehicles.

    Small cars have always been around since Day One. We know how to make small cars. There has been a sincere effort to make a popular small American car since WWII. Most of us have at one time, owned a small car that would work fine in Europe. Even those people derided by the self-righteous have probably owned at one time a car the self-righteous couldn’t find fault with.

    But we can’t stick with these cars because American life requires something bigger than that. Stop your flagellation because your vehicle is bigger than a European bread box.

    I so dislike the self-loathing so many Americans are going through when they compare themselves to Europe. All during the 1800s, Americans did that. We stopped when they started hating, slaughtering, and gassing millions of one another during the 20th Century. Now it seems we are back to dramatically passing the back of our hands across our faces and falling onto fainting couches when Uncle Zack’s Explorer carefully parks at the Portland train station and get black mascara’ed stares from eco-freaks who recycle their urine to water endangered foliage.

    America is good enough not to loathe or bash.
    And so are our vehicle choices.

    • 0 avatar
      Acubra

      +100500!

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      We buy these vehicles because our lives in America require bigger vehicles.

      Many folks buy F-150s because that’s what fashion and convention dictates, not out of any actual need.

      • 0 avatar
        Slow_Joe_Crow

        “We buy these vehicles because our lives in America require bigger vehicles.”
        I beg to differ, while our sprawling suburbs and vast rural areas require some sort of car or truck, it is our egos and social climbing that determine the size of our car or truck. The only one of my neighbors who needs, and has an F150 is a drywall contractor, the only one with a minivan has 4 kids.
        I have never bought a car bigger than a Ford Escort, or a truck bigger than a Ford Ranger and I have two kids and a fleet of mountain bikes. I didn’t need to trade my sedan in on a van or SUV when my first kid was born, and the second kid simply required swapping the 3 seat truck for a 4 seat sedan.
        I don’t “need” AWD to drive across a mountain pass in a snow storm, or a truck to carry 4 people and 6 bikes. I occasionally wish for a few extra seats for carpooling, but I can get that with a Mazda5, not a Tahoe.

      • 0 avatar
        fvfvsix

        -Which doesn’t necessarily mean they would be fine driving a Fiat 500, either.

        Out here, if you don’t have at least one car that can get you through open desert, your mobility will be impacted. Quite a few cars meet the requirement, but none of the “superminis” will.

      • 0 avatar
        VanillaDude

        it is our egos and social climbing that determine the size of our car or truck

        Not really. For some that may be true. Some social climbing in some groups require a large car or truck. Some other social climbers within some groups require an anti-big car attitude, a pro-environmental attitude, and a fleet of mountain bikes. It depends upon which social group one wishes to climb.

        I see very large egos in hybrid cars, small cars and without cars. Whatever pumps your ego up.

        Small cars work in Europe. They don’t work as well here.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      @Vanilla Dude: “We know how to make small cars.”

      Well, some would argue with you on that point ;)

      I think there’s a lot of assumptions based on what folks drive; judging a book by its cover and all that.

      I also think there comes a time in folk’s lives that they just don’t care what others think about what they drive. I think I have arrived there.

  • avatar
    George B

    Small cars are getting bigger. Consumers can now get subcompact fuel economy out of almost mid-sized sedans like the Corolla, Jetta, and Cruze. Here in the US few consumers select tiny cars by choice and it looks like even the Mini has grown to meet expectations. As others have said, safety expectations for children also establish a minimum car size.

    The both new CAFE requirements and consumer demand reward longer wheel base and wider track. Expect more cars with extremely short overhangs and wheels pushed out to the corners.

  • avatar
    pacificpom2

    My parents first car in Australia was a Morris Mini, green with a white roof. Nicknamed “bricks” because they looked like one compared to the Holdens, Fords and Valiants, could go round corners like it was on rails, and it certain circumstances could out race them. We a young kids, 10 and 6, didn’t have the pleasure of actually driving it, only riding in it, but I know that it was a regular long distance driver and I can only remeber it breaking down when the fan belt broke. That’s when I learnt or heard about legendary “pommy” engineering. Apparently it was not an easy thing to change. Plus it’s legendary dislike of water and rain, but being in Australia before climate change, the rain only came once or twice a year and you could ptrepare or be prepared for water ingress of the front mounted distributer. As for a Smart car only usefull fro belting around the city streets, wouldn’t take one of those anywhere near a highway, the new MINI I would, just too expensive down here.
    and

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    I think most comparisons of the US and Europe as far as car needs are a bit diseigenuous. Sure the US is a big country – but you know what, SO IS EUROPE in these days of no borders and Schengen. Most Americans car NEEDS don’t differ significantly from most Europeans, merely thier WANTS.

    Sure SOME people need to tow rolling ranch homes, and thus allegedly need a truck, but I saw far more caravans being towed around by quite modest cars while I was in Europe last summer than I ever see here, even living in “Vacationland”. Their campers are just smarter than ours. Lighter and more cleverly designed. Plenty of European cities have sprawling suburbs too.

    But what do I know, I am all for my health insurance not being tied to my employment, and a reasonable social safety net in general.

    • 0 avatar
      fvfvsix

      The problem with the “Americans can just use European-style Caravans because they’re smarter” argument is that Americans don’t go camping in well manicured grassy fields with parking areas most of the time. Europeans, conversely, don’t travel 2700 miles to get to their destination very often either.

      Of course, this is non-scientific, but I’ve asked people I know in quite a few european countries who “caravan” about their choice of tow vehicle. All of them with modest cars wish they could have a “4×4″ like a Nissan Frontier to tow with, but can’t afford tax/gas/etc. The only ones who liked their tow rigs drove X5s.

      I really think the truth lies somewhere between desire and necessity. Americans are just lucky enough to have better choices for the heavy stuff.

  • avatar
    bus-man1

    Christ I want a old Mini, the 88′ Volvo 240 just feels too safe going down 64/40. But alas the upcoming bankruptcy due to the wife’s thyroid shutting down (yes, we are both college educated, employed and “insured”) might prevent that for a decade or three.


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