By on March 19, 2013

One of the most interesting things to come out of the recent Chevy Impala launch – aside from the fact that GM thinks it can sell the thing for $40,000 – is that the current, unloved Impala will live on as a fleet-only special called the “Chevrolet Impala Limited.” To that, I say: great idea.

I’ve been a proponent of fleet-only cars ever since the 1997-2003 Chevrolet Malibu was rebranded the Chevrolet Classic, a name which would’ve been appropriate when it debuted. In fact, I think there should be even more fleet-only cars – an idea that’s unpopular in the automotive industry, but highly praised between my ears. Allow me to explain.

The Fleet-Only Car World

 

Today, GM is the lone brand in the fleet-only game. In addition to the new Impala Limited, they have three other models:

1. The Chevrolet Caprice, which is only sold to police departments, who flip it on eBay to guys who inexplicably can’t wait for the SS.
2. The Chevrolet Captiva Sport, which – despite bring a rebadged Saturn Vue from five years ago – is still better than virtually every current car-based Jeep.
3. The Chevrolet Malibu Classic. Yes, the “Classic” name lives on in the form of last year’s Malibu, which can be sold to rental car companies instead of today’s Malibu so that renters can transport rear passengers with legs.

While GM is the sole brand offering fleet-only models today, that hasn’t historically been the case. As everyone on TTAC knows, the Ford Crown Victoria was fleet-only for its final few years on the market. And the entire Chrysler Corporation was fleet-only from about 2003 until December of last year.

Advantages of Fleet-Only

The most obvious benefit of fleet-only models is that you don’t torpedo the resale value of the rest of your lineup. Here’s an example: last year, GM sold 37,000 Captiva Sports, each of which will eventually be available at your neighborhood CarMax. They also sold around 218,000 Equinox units. Some of those may have even been sold outside of Detroit. Southfield, for example.

If GM didn’t have the Captiva Sport, the Equinox number would’ve jumped to somewhere around 255,000. That’s way too many units. The ensuing used-market flood would’ve plunged resale values, which in turn would plunge new-car values. Economists refer to this as The Chrysler Effect.

Chevrolet would then have two choices: boost sales by lowering credit standards and adding incentives, or redesign the thing. And I think we all know which one they’d pick.

But with the Captiva Sport, the Equinox can stay in relative balance with supply and demand. Which, in GM terms, means two grand cash back or zero percent interest for 48 months.

The other benefit of fleet-only sales is, quite simply, keeping the factories running. We all know the automakers have to sign long-term, high-volume deals with the unions, or else the world risks a strike and the very real possibility that we may have to go a few weeks without the Chevrolet Sonic. Even if GM makes no money on all those Captiva Sports, it’s better than losing money by idling the plants and paying the workers anyway. Economists call that The Mitsubishi Effect.

Disadvantages of Fleet-Only

Of course, fleet-only sales do have one massive disadvantage.

Let’s say you’re John Smith and your personal car is a Camry. You’re landing at the Des Moines International Airport, so named because occasionally a flight from Toronto to Los Angeles makes an emergency landing there. (Actually, there is one single non-stop flight from Des Moines to Cancun, which is essential to the airport because otherwise they’d have to change all the signs.)

You show up at the Enterprise counter to claim your rental car and the perky woman behind the counter informs you that you’ll be driving a Chevrolet Impala with the same tone she’d use to announce that you’ve been bumped to first class, or that you’ve won a year’s supply of dish soap.

You walk out to your car, which turns out to be an Impala Limited. You throw your bags in. And nine miles later you decide that you never, ever, under any circumstances ever want to come into contact with any Chevrolet product ever again. You silently pat yourself on the back for buying a Camry.

This could be a slight problem for a brand that’s trying to add new buyers.

The Solution

As with most things in life, the key is moderation. Fleet-only cars are a great idea, but only if they’re not terrible. While it makes for easy jokes, the Captiva Sport is the perfect execution of a fleet-only car: it’s not so bad to look at, it’s not so bad to sit in, and it’s not so bad to drive. And it doesn’t harm Chevy’s reputation, since the average person hasn’t even heard of it until they go to CarMax, where they’re parked three-deep on every horizontal surface.

The Impala Limited, however, is the exact opposite, so I hope it doesn’t last long. There are a lot of John Smiths in this world, and they’re buying Camrys every day.

Doug DeMuro operates PlaysWithCars.com. He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.

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117 Comments on “Fleet-Only Cars: A Great Idea...”


  • avatar
    FreedMike

    “You walk out to your car, which turns out to be an Impala Limited. You throw your bags in. And nine miles later you decide that you never, ever, under any circumstances ever want to come into contact with any Chevrolet product ever again. You silently pat yourself on the back for buying a Camry.

    This could be a slight problem for a brand that’s trying to add new buyers.”

    Or:
    You’re a silly sort who has memorized the last ten comparos done by Consumer Reports, and have concluded that any car not called “Camry” (or built by a Japanese company) is a unreliable, flaming deathtrap that drives like an out-of-tune Model T. So, when the perky lady at the rental counter gives you the keys to an Impala, your balls immediately clench up in you, like they would if you were standing on the ledge of a 110-story building looking straight down into the abyss.

    Dear Lord, save me from Chevrolet!

    Then you look at the car. You notice it’s no more generic than your beloved Camry. You open the door, get in, and find it’s actually decent inside. You start the thing up, and find it’s no BMW, but neither is your Camry.

    A mind-blowing thought races across your brain: MAYBE CHEVYS AREN’T SO BAD.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      You both have good points, albeit it opposite ones.

      Camcord people in my experience tend to thumb their nose at anything that isn’t a Camcord, I think some would find fault with almost anything else be it Yugo or Bentley.

      2012+ W is alot of things but it comes with a set of balls standard, how many Camcord owners still have theirs?

      • 0 avatar
        TEXN3

        I still do. The Accord is what my wife wanted. See, we drove several cars, looked at the deals we could get and she liked the Accord best (she only had old RWD Volvos prior). She is happy and thus, my balls are happy. There is more to life than hitting the gas from a stoplight to almost rearending the car in front.

        As for me, I drive one of three Cannondales everyday and a Craftsman on Saturdays, balls safely intact while doing so. And they’re made in the USA like the Honda.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          “She is happy and thus, my balls are happy”

          +1

        • 0 avatar
          Quentin

          Another Cannondale man! I just picked up a Scalpel 29er Carbon 1. Where can I buy more time to ride?

          • 0 avatar
            TEXN3

            I’ve been riding at lunch. Scalpel is a nice bike! 5 minutes from the office to the foothills, grab a couple $1 tacos on the way back and I’m happy. I’ve got a 92 T700, 04 F400, and last year picked up a year old Scalpel 29er (last C-Dale made in USA).

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        …..Camcord people in my experience tend to thumb their nose at anything that isn’t a Camcord, I think some would find fault with almost anything else be it Yugo or Bentley. ….

        This is absolute truth. Very few people can put preconceived notions aside and honestly assess something, especially when their emotions get amped up. The reality is that most Camcorders feel that there is no substitute and they defend their position with stories of failed X cars…

        Like the reference to the Des Moines International Airport. One of my early projects in my career, I designed the electrical system and lighting for the twin parking structures. The people I met in IA during the construction were really nice, with the exception of the architect on the job…Midwestern folks are very friendly.

        • 0 avatar
          WildcatMatt

          Having family in west central IA, I’ve flown in and out of DSM more than a time or two, and I’ve always thought that parking lot was well-lit.

          Thank you!

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      Umm, no. I’ve driven the new Camry. Particularly in the SE trim that makes up nearly half of what I see on the road, it drives far better than an Impala. Better front seats. Roomier backseat. Better steering. Better body control. It’s the only Camry I’ve been in that didn’t make me feel like I should be drawing Social Security. Like an Impala.

      If you want people to think Chevy’s aren’t so bad, the outdated, bygone era fleet-only Impala is the absolute wrong place to start. Point them to a Cruze. Considering how well that is selling, it seems many would agree. The oversized poorly-packaged soft boulevard cruiser is a niche market.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        +10000

        As a frequent renter, I would rather have just about anything over an Impala. They are just AWFUL cars. I don’t care if they are fast in a straight line. A Cruze is simply a far better car – I would actually consider owning a Cruze, I wouldn’t take an Impala for FREE.

        I’ll also take just about anything over a Craptiva too, for that matter. How can something so slow suck so much gas? Though at least Hertz’ Craptivas all have seem to have XM radio, so they have one redeeming virtue.

        • 0 avatar
          Kyree S. Williams

          I recently had two Cruze rentals, both 2012 LT models (one white, one gold) with black leather interiors and the larger rims. They were comfortable, spacious, good-looking and efficient, and I was sorry to see them go. I’m seriously considering one now…but of course I’ll take due dilligence and test-drive the other cars in the segment.

        • 0 avatar
          Kinosh

          I never understood the hate for the Impala.

          It’s a smooth, powerful V6 mated to a six speed. It gives you 30mpg at cruise while eating up every pavement disturbance. Its seats are built like recliners. It has a massive trunk. The rear seats do leave something to be desired, especially for how big the car is.

          The biggest reason; it costs the same as a Camcord. 50% depreciation after 3 years, so you can pick one up cheap. Parts (and spare engines) galore, so it costs nothing to maintain.

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            Some of us actually like to DRIVE. The Impala, at best, is a rolling sofa. A sofa with really nasty upholstery sitting in front of a 19″ black and white TV with no cable. A fast sofa is not an improvement. I find the seats torturously uncomfortable. And the only way you will get 30mpg out of an Impala in the real world is drafting a semi downhill.

          • 0 avatar
            Scout_Number_4

            +1 Don’t hate the Impala, just don’t buy it new. I’m a sales guy with a company car. I’ve had four Impalas (2002, 2004, 2010, 2012…there was a 2008 Charger in there). My latest one is clearly the best of the bunch. When I throw it back around January of 2015, it will have 85000 easy miles on the clock with regular maintenance. Someone will buy it at an auction for less than low-book and have an excellent car for another 50-100K miles.

          • 0 avatar
            Power6

            I actually find them pretty good to drive, the latest ones with the 3.6 being the best, a pretty nice ride/handling balance, they finally got it by the time they send them all to rental fleets ha. Its as good as a big FWD sedan with a slushbox can be, which is not too bad.

            Seat was ok for me but we all differ.

            Yeah 30 MPG is if you reset the trip computer at the speed limit on the highway (this is how ‘Vette drivers measure their 35MPG highway), not for those silly people who measure the MPG of actually going places.

          • 0 avatar
            30-mile fetch

            “50% depreciation after 3 years, so you can pick one up cheap”

            “Don’t hate the Impala, just don’t buy it new”

            If the car is only appealing when it costs half of MSRP, it probably isn’t a great car. The biggest selling point is the steep depreciation and resulting killer deal as a lightly used car? Yeah, about time GM put it out to pasture, then.

          • 0 avatar
            Power6

            Doesn’t everything have its price? do you want a Camry LE at 40k? Is it a bad product because you can have one for 25k?

            The problem is GM has a pie-in-the-sky MSRP for the Impala, but the actual transaction prices to the fleets, and then to the next owner are much lower. So the argument is to compare it at what you actually pay for it, and this is where the Impala starts to make sense.

            It would be great if GM would come out and say “here we will sell you a last gen Impala for 18k loaded, 3.6 with 6-speed and all”. probably not going to happen that way for many reasons though!

            Many consumers want the latest tech and 8″ LCD screens and streaming Pandora over Bluetooth with apps and cooled cupholders and heated rear seats and stitched dashes with cool colors…its nice that the Impala is available for those who don’t want that, this is a practice in many other markets to sell outdated stuff cheap, but doesn’t really seem to fly in the US.

    • 0 avatar
      ufomike

      MIND = BLOWN !!!

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Home run Doug, I think you’ve shed light on a subject hotly debated for the past few months in the B&B.

  • avatar
    jz78817

    “And the entire Chrysler Corporation was fleet-only from about 2003 until December of last year.”

    ba-ZING!

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    I disagree. The Impala limited is an excellent vehicle for the rental counter. the reason: the old Impala has 18.6 cu-ft. of trunk space, better than all the other vehicles that are available for the same price. (The new Impala supposedly has 18.8 cu-ft of trunk space, but I think the battery impacts this in the 4-cylinder model.)

    Last year, my family of 4 took a vacation. Our luggage fit in the trunk of the Impala, but would not fit in the Camry, Fusion, Altima or Maxima. There was supposedly a Captiva available but it was “missing”. One of their gold club members had reserved the Impala, so we had to wait around for a Mazda-5. The luggage fit in the Mazda 5 but wasn’t covered.

  • avatar
    Jeff Weimer

    “You walk out to your car, which turns out to be an Impala Limited. You throw your bags in. And nine miles later you decide that you never, ever, under any circumstances ever want to come into contact with any Chevrolet product ever again. You silently pat yourself on the back for buying a Camry.”

    Economists call that the “GM effect”.

  • avatar
    cargogh

    Your stories give me the same laughs Dave Berg’s did when I was very young. I love funny and true.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    FWIW – Ford breaks out, sells, brands and lists its police duty Taurus as something like Police Interceptor Special. They even break it out on their sales charts separately from the Taurus – and it is sold only to police departments.

    I also know Toyota has the Camry L, which is supposed to be the stripper rental sled fleet only car – but I don’t know how many L’s are sold to average slobs through the dealer network.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      The same is true of many lowest trim models. I believe the Fusion S & Focus S are only sold to rental fleets because no one spending their own money would have them.

      • 0 avatar
        chicagoland

        No, Ford S models are available. They are for “bait and switch” sales. Usually one on the lot, but many upsells occur.

        And rental firm buy mid level trims, they want resale too. Customers want power windows in rentals.

  • avatar
    Bunter1

    If they have dedicated vehicles for fleet what will GM do with the excess production of the mediocre offering the public rejects when they are offered to them.
    ;^D

    Chuckle.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    I have a nit…

    …The other benefit of fleet-only sales is, quite simply, keeping the factories running. We all know the automakers have to sign long-term, high-volume deals with the unions, or else the world risks a strike and the very real possibility that we may have to go a few weeks without the Chevrolet Sonic. Even if GM makes no money on all those Captiva Sports, it’s better than losing money by idling the plants and paying the workers anyway…

    In modern manufacturing it costs more money to run a factory at say 85% capacity than it does at 100% capacity. Capacity utilization has a significant impact on the bottom line. There are examples of it everywhere.

    Food companies will run production lines at 100%, even if they are selling say 90% of the product. The other 10% of the product ends up at places like Dollar General or Grocery Outlet. There is nothing “wrong” with the product. It’s not near expired, a second, or any less than the 90% that went to Kroger. Kroger can’t stock it anymore, and it will cost more money to run the factory at just 90% capacity than it is to take a bath on the 10% they distribute to other channels.

    It isn’t just union contracts – and lets remember – during the Great Recession when Toyota idled thousands of workers in the United States Toyota paid them – in full – out of the kindless of the bottom of their hearts (contract workers were shown the door).

    There are other reasons a factory is better run at capacity than the union says so (but the union says so is one reason of several)

    • 0 avatar
      HeeeeyJake

      I take issue with your entire comment. There are some elements of truth in what you say, but they are based on efficiencies in a manufacturing vacuum. Finance plays a huge role in expenditures, and in supply chain management. And there is definitely an economics angle you are ignoring, which is based on holistic efficiency.

      Every supply chain management specialist, as well as mfg. co. executive on the planet, will tell you the capacity is optimized at ~88%. This optimized capacity utilization allows for demand fluctuation upwards (not leaving revenue “on the table” if product is in high demand) and downwards (if the product sells below projections). It is ALWAYS cheaper to oversupply workforce and adjust shift (i.e. labor supply) than it is to expect to run a factory at 100% and “eff” yourself if you sell more, or oversupply labor if the product is a bomb. A new auto factory, with tooling, is between $500 million and $1 billion. Don’t kid yourself if you think leaving a 10-15% buffer (running at 85-90% capacity) isn’t optimized from a financial standpoint.

      A person is either crazy or uneducated in OPTIMIZED MFG LABOR SUPPLY if they think plants run efficiently at 100% from a product planning or amortization standpoint. Risk management in an uncertain market is the BIGGEST factor in marketing projections and labor supply projections.

      And, Toyota paying full wages during a shutdown is way cheaper than laying off, especially in a non union environment. It is always cheaper to keep a good existing employee happy than to rehire new ones. Don’t piss off your labor force, and they will love you. It’s not charity, as you describe, to pay full wages to idled-plant employees (non-union), it’s smart.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    I actually laughed out loud several times reading this. Well done.

    Fun fact: trying to explain to people who don’t care about cars why you’re laughing will make them want to spend less time with you.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    This has been done before. Google “Checker Marathon”!

    On a more serious note, I’ve always wondered about the strategy involved in selling to car rental agencies. Obviously, one goal would be to dump a lot of product on the market, even at a very small profit.

    But another goal might be to take advantage of the opportunity to introduce someone to your car, so that he/she might keep you in mind when it’s time to replace his/her personal vehicle. For instance, my wife and I spent a week with a Ford Mustang convertible. On the plus side, the V-6 engine/automatic drivetrain was lovely, both powerful and fuel efficient. On the negative side, the non-adjustable passenger seat made my wife feel like she was sitting in a tub and the interior was a little too cheaped-out for both of us. Give the car a nicer interior and, yeah, we’d think about it.

  • avatar
    philadlj

    I agree with the old Impala going on (as I’m sure JB does!) but it’s strange how they’re going to call it the “Limited” as opposed to “Impala Classic.” Maybe a subtle dig at the blue oval, re-purposing one of their highest trim levels (Limited) for a rental-only model?

    • 0 avatar
      tresmonos

      I’m glad somebody else caught it. I had to laugh when I heard they were calling one of the highest produced modern vehicle platforms the ‘Limited.’ Gut punch for Ford’s marketing department.

      GM still makes the Malibu. No amount of punches can get them out of that fight with themselves.

      • 0 avatar
        dtremit

        “Limited” has a lot longer history with GM than with Ford — particularly with Buick. The Ford LTD was called the LTD because GM already owned the Limited trademark.

        Ford has been dropping the “Limited” trim in favor of “Titanium” anyway. Only the Taurus still has a Limited trim, and I’d wager that’ll go away on the next refresh.

        • 0 avatar
          bball40dtw

          All the D-Platform vehicles have the Limited trim (Flex, Taurus, Explorer). The Edge does too. They actually took the Titanium trim away from the Flex and made it a package within the Limited or SEL. They also dropped the SEL trim for the Focus, Fiesta, and Fusion.

  • avatar
    George Herbert

    A couple of years ago, I had the Impala Rental experience.

    Sadly, that is exactly the impression I got. Sure, it was a rental, out of Burbank airport, but it wouldn’t drive straight on the freeway, much less any curves between Burbank and Thousand Oaks.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      Hmmm…

      I have rented Impalas for 7 years, most recently from Enterprise/LAX, and I hear stories like yours, but have NEVER experienced any of what you and some others have said. Ours drove extremely well up to Santa Barbara and vicinity, plus negotiating SoCal’s freeways just fine.

      Some years ago, I took a rental Impala up to the Lick Observatory and back on CA 130 without a hitch. Ask Alex Dykes what that road is like!

      If the car felt like it was riding dangerous, my wife would have noticed something odd and let me know it, but she enjoyed the ride as much as I.

      I make it a point to rent Impalas, because they are comfortable.

      Sometimes, I think you guys make this stuff up just to trash GM…

      • 0 avatar
        Brunsworks

        Hey, c’mon. He could have just had one with a bad alignment job–or one recently driven by P.J. O’Rourke.

      • 0 avatar
        mikey

        @zackman…I think it was “freedmike” in one of the first comments that pretty well summed it up quite well.

        Some of these folks, including the author are so blinded by thier GM hate, they have lost thier objectivity.
        The current Impala has been around for years and thousands of folks have bought them new, and used. Many people like yourself have had nothing but positive things to say about the Impala.

        Yes,the old Impala has reached the end of its run. The new one however,has had some very positive reviews{not here}
        Zackman..enjoy your 300hp Impala, let the rest rave about thier wonderfull Asian vehicles,we know better eh!

        • 0 avatar
          Power6

          Maybe you are blinded by your GM love? Glass houses, throwing stones…

          The article is hardly GM biased, maybe you need to sit in some more modern vehicles, the “old” Impala is a sea of black plastic with mold lines, trimmed with the fakest of wood grain printed shiny plastic and cheap leather, with a lackluster “Bose” sound system and very sparse tech, compared to any competitor in its class. GM asks a laughable 30k+ for this “loaded” LTZ Impala. If you can’t see any of that, maybe you need to get out a bit more, take the old blinders off?

          A great point was made about this, the casual renter might be turned off or simply re-inforce their feelings about GM cars, however wrong they might be. Preception is reality, GM marketing should be on this.

          Now I’ve rented a bunch of these, the Impala is great, nice ride and handling, the 3.6 drivetrain is stellar. Actual transaction prices, especially slightly used, make this some sort of deal, can’t get a Camry for this money.

          Now I am a GM lover from way back, but I’m not friggin blind either.

      • 0 avatar
        George Herbert

        I don’t personally mind GM as a whole. The last new car we bought in the family was a GM product, and it ran respectably for its about 165k lifespan before it was broadsided. When it was broadsided my wife suffered no injuries. The passive and active measures worked just fine.

        That particular Impala, that day out of Burbank? On 129 without any traffic around I let go of the wheel to see how bad the alignment was, and was drifting out of the #2 lane a second later. No more of that. I was stuck with it for the week, and found a number of other deficiencies.

        I can believe that the alignment was the result of a prior renter, and not the way it shipped from the factory. The rest of the deficiencies were more inherent. It doesn’t help that it’s inherently the antithesis of what I want in a car, but even for what it was, I was not happy.

        I don’t generalize to the entire company; I’d love to go test drive and report on an ATS or new Vette, or any number of their other less sporty products. Even the new Impala, just to get a feeling for what they have changed.

        • 0 avatar
          corntrollio

          “I can believe that the alignment was the result of a prior renter, and not the way it shipped from the factory.”

          You’ve seen the state of Southern California roads, right? I’d definitely assume it was another renter or SoCal roads before I assumed it was the car itself.

          Bay Area roads aren’t much better, for that matter.

          “On 129″

          Did you mean CA-134 — on the Ventura Freeway?

          • 0 avatar
            George Herbert

            My bad on the freeway number. I had to check the map – I could drive the route still by memory, but haven’t been working down there at all for 2+ years now, so I am not remembering the road designations clearly.

            I was headed towards Thousand Oaks and took I-5 north from Burbank Airport to 118, west to 23, south to 101, and a few miles more west to where I stayed along 101. I tried the steering on 118, after the 405 interchange, probably in Granada Hills.

            There are plenty of crappy roads in California; my RX-8 on 880 northbound from 101 to 237 right now fondly resembles a bucking bronco (cough). Enough so that I avoid having cars to either side, some of the ruts from the repaving have knocked me out of the lane. And there’s the complete crap of I-5 southbound from the Grapevine for nearly 10 miles south of there…

            I’ve never had any of my personal cars knocked out of alignment by the roads, as bad as they’ve gotten.

            I can believe previous driver hit a curb or whatnot. I’ll never know, for sure. As I said, the alignment put me off the car, but the other … features … made me not want to consider that model in the future. The new gen ones, I haven’t had a chance to drive yet.

      • 0 avatar
        Dynasty

        “Sometimes, I think you guys make this stuff up just to trash GM…”

        I agree. We have an Impala for our work vehicle, and the car is so comfortable. And it is solid feeling too. Definitely not a corner carver… but it is relatively quick, quiet, comfortable, and fuel efficient.

        And BIG.

    • 0 avatar
      econobiker

      A GM Impala rental within the last 9 months. Some of the black interior plastic was the almost the same pattern/grain as used on heavy truck plastic quarter fenders and probably the same material. It was like the poly and grain pattern used on plastic shipping tubs for custom fit items.

      Reallly cheap-o feeling and looking…

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    Here in coastal San Diego, the domestics all seem to be fleet only. They sell trucks, but any new cars inevitably are rentals. GM offering rental fleets cars that are even less contemporary than their best efforts is great, if you’re Toyota, Honda or Nissan. Every contact I’ve had with a GM rental car has made me grateful that I don’t have to drive a GM car on a daily basis, and I haven’t had one of their fleet specials yet. I was issued a 2011 Enterprise Camry, and it changed my position in the Camry debates. I know people like them because they’re reliable, but it was also the best driving rental car I’ve ever been issued going away. I haven’t been able to take Camry critics seriously since.

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      Got an ATS this week from Enterprise, it’s AMAZING! I’m certain it would change your impression of GM as much as your rental Camry changed your mind about Camrys.

      Athough, I will note that the Enterprise spec ATS I got was the 2.0t.

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      The 2013 Camry 2.5 SE I drove also changed my opinion of Camrys. Drivetrain and seats were fantastic, steering had no feel but was very precise and responsive, very little body lean and no slop.

      Similarly, the Kia Optima I drove right afterwards changed my opinion of that car: I wouldn’t consider one anymore. Terrible, squishy, unsupportive front seats, numb steering made artificially heavy to create the illusion of sportiness, too-high beltline. It may be wrapped in beautiful sheet metal, but it drives nothing like it looks.

      • 0 avatar
        Bunter1

        Funny, that is similar to my impression of my Sienna LE. Not much on feel (not as bad as expected and I drove a Miata for 15 years), but stays relativly flat and is responsive to imput without being twitchy. Seats are far better than my buddies Escalade-flat and hard, mine are all day comfy. Ride is far better also though that may be a truck thing. The turning circle still impresses too, one manuverable big box.

      • 0 avatar
        APaGttH

        For whatever its worth, I had a 2008 Camry stripper rental that I drove from Sacramento to LA. One of the worst rental cars of my life (number two, sandwiched between the Ford Taurus circa 2008 and a Buick Lucerne circa 2007 – sorry can’t cry foreign bias when two of the three on my worst rental list are domestic).

        I thought I was going to die from the fumes of the out gassing cheap plastic. It wandered all over the road, the steering was like out of a 1972 Oldsmobile. Climbing over the mountains to get into the LA Basin the engine screamed, squalled, whined, and moaned. Standing on the gas pedal produced a symphony of sound and fury that translated into no more forward momentum on the incline.

        I was utterly, totally, completely, unimpressed. My sister’s 1997 Camry with 180K miles on it is put together better, with better materials, and rode better (although her rotors are warped TO HELL).

        I have avoided Impala’s like the plague – and recently got one of the 2012 versions because I wanted to see how much the 6-speed auto, 302 HP 3.6L V6, and other tweaks improved the car. What I had read was true. I would never buy one, it is a sled with a woefully outdated interior. But it was a comfortable, nice to drive on the Michigan roads, soaked up the bumps and lots of power sled.

        The Ford Taurus (circa 2008) I had was so bad that I located the nearest Avis and swapped it out. Between the useless headlights, the wandering steering, and a seat that offered about as much support as a milk crate and the misbehaving Sync system (only car I ever had a problem with straight Sync) I was done.

        The Buick Lucerne was hobbled with the 3.8L V6 at just 197 HP to drag around its heft. It was equipped, not stripped, but was still a sled. An under powered, floating, God awful sled.

        I also struck the Kia Optima off of my list after my rental experience. Very similar experience to you. A so-so interior, uncomfortable seat that I couldn’t find a good driving position in, and it just seemed to lack refinement. It is a beautiful car on the outside – but it has issues.

        I can’t even get a Cruze at the rental counter – I’m told people are asking for them and they just aren’t ever available. I had a Captiva and I hated it; would probably put it at number four on my list of the worst and I guess I’m in the minoirty. I had an ’08 Malibu LTZ and I was very impressed, as was my coworkers. I had another one in ’11 and boy the Malibu did not age well. Also had a 2012 Ford Mustang convertible and I was completely underwhelmed.

        Getting picky in my old age I guess.

    • 0 avatar
      tresmonos

      What? You need to test more mid-sized vehicles. I think the Altima bests it and that says a lot.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        I haven’t driven the 2013 Altima, or the 2013 Camry for that matter. I did drive two 2011 or 2012 Altimas though, and I didn’t care for the experiences. They seemed heavy handed in terms of interior and exterior design, and their transmissions didn’t suit my driving style. That’s giving them the benefit of the doubt too. I recall thinking that they were what Pontiac would be building had they survived, and that isn’t a compliment based on the many Pontiac rental cars I’ve served time in.

        • 0 avatar
          tresmonos

          Try out the latest mid-sizers. Driving dynamics are improved.

          I used the Altima as a low water mark. Just about everything is better in 13, I wasn’t impressed with the 11 Camry except for the styling. For some reason, I really liked the lines of the 11MY.

          • 0 avatar
            golden2husky

            The previous generation Altima is no low water mark…not by a long shot…though the CVT is not my cup of tea. Had the Pontiac G6 been as good as an Altima, Pontiac would likely still exist….

          • 0 avatar
            tresmonos

            @golden2husky:
            Same thing as a Malibu. I’m not counting cheap interior, just driving. It all is subjective to the individual, anyway. I was merely trying to suggest CJinSD get in a few other models to test them out.

      • 0 avatar
        mikey

        You know whats so cool about the Altima? For me its the blue smoke that comes out of the exhaust on acceleration. Not being familiar with that “superior Japanese enginering” we hear so much about. Is the blue smoke an option, or does it come as standard equipment?

        • 0 avatar
          tresmonos

          FWIW, I have really enjoyed each new Mazda I’ve driven. After almost a year in Mexico, my opinion is that Nissan is the new economical global mass producer. Doug’s article today really drove that point home.

        • 0 avatar
          mik101

          @mikey
          Trolls gonna troll… I can see a half a dozen less than 10 year old Altimas from where I sit right now. In fact, the 09 Coupe I can see from here has a turbo kit that I assembled 3 years ago for my roommate and requires no oil between changes. That one is around 125,000km now.
          Disclaimer: There isn’t a VQ among the bunch.

          • 0 avatar
            mikey

            @mik101…Trolling? Not me dude. I wasn’t sure if this post was a GM hate piece,or Japanese love fest.

            Comment after comment beating up, what I consider a well made durable car.

            So I throw in a little Altima fact,and all of a sudden I’m a troll.

          • 0 avatar
            Power6

            It is a durable well made car, I don’t think anyone has said it was not?

            It also has a cheap rubbermaid interior and I think most objections start there.

            I had a Mazda 6 rental last week that was a bit nicer than an Impala interior. My coworker had a Charger and that thing is leaps and bounds beyond either, the Pentastar with 8-speed rocks and the totally stripped rental only model has nice tech, car drives great, nice looking interior. I don’t know the prices, but the base Charger is around 30k right? GM thinks you should pay the same for the Impala. And it still has just a auto-down drivers window, like a 92 Beretta!

            What have you rented lately??

        • 0 avatar
          SherbornSean

          The blue smoke means the cardinals are getting stoned.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      If a 2011 Camry was the best driving rental vehicle you have ever driven, you need to get out more. They drive like Buicks used to drive. I would think a Honda fanatic like you would appreciate a bit more verve. And yes, I have driven multiple rented examples of every year Camry since 1996 when I started travelling for a living. Including the Hybrids and the V6. All steaming piles of reliable meh.

      My rental car surprise and delight winners:
      FIAT 500 – I BOUGHT one with my own money!
      Toyota RAV4
      Cadillac CTS and STS
      Chevy Cruze
      Buick Lacrosse
      Ford CMax
      VW Passat (North American de-contented cheapo version)
      VW Jetta (ditto)
      Ford Flex

      My rental car biggest losers:
      Chevy Impala
      Chevy Craptiva
      Ford Panther anything
      Toyota Camry
      Toyota Corolla
      Nissan Maxima
      Chrysler 200

      • 0 avatar
        30-mile fetch

        The current SE drives nothing like the wallowing rental LEs of several years ago. I’ve driven a family member’s 2010 and struggle to find anything kind to say. But I actually enjoyed the 2013. Felt more like a Honda with road noise suppression than a Toyota.

        • 0 avatar
          mike978

          The Camry is still no Accord, Fusion or 6 when it comes to driving dynamics.

          • 0 avatar
            30-mile fetch

            Never said it was. Said it was surprisingly good and far better than antecedent marshmallow Camrys.

            Not sure the Accord belongs in the same dynamics category as the Fusion and 6.

      • 0 avatar
        Marko

        What’s so bad about the Maxima? Just curious.

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          What’s wrong with the Maxima? It is huge on the outside but small on the inside. The interior materials are the same as the much cheaper Altima, and they are cheap and nasty in THAT car. The chassis is utterly floppy and the car has WAY more power than it can effectively control. The engine sounds like a bag of hammers in a dryer. It has a CVT. I could keep going…

          • 0 avatar
            dtremit

            In one (brand new) Maxima I rented last year, the sunroof squeaked every time you went over a bump. Not making that up.

          • 0 avatar
            bunkie

            It’s a bloody shame what Nissan has done to the Maxima. I had four of them starting with an ’89 SE 5-speed which was a brilliant car for the time, reasonably quick, nicely buttoned down and well screwed together. Three more SEs followed, a 93, a 95 and a 97 (all 2-year leases) and each was somewhat less than the prior car. By the time the post-2000 redesign came around (with the end of the 5-speed), it was clear that the Maxima was dead to me.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Your experiences reflect those of a friend of mine, whose 2000 Maxima 5-spd V6 finally died with 197 on the clock and he replaced it with an Altima. The cars are night and day.

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            A crying shame indeed. A friend still has the ’96 that he bought new. v6, 5spd, a fine car then and now. The current one has no redeeming virtues, and is rendered utterly redundant by the existence of the V6 Altima on the cheaper side and the Infinity whatever-they-are-calling-it-now on the slightly more expensive side.

  • avatar
    Quentin

    My rental experience in.a Captiva was “no USB to charge my phone? the power port isn’t working, either? GM is still on my do not buy list”

    • 0 avatar
      tresmonos

      The pitfalls of a fleet only model is the lack of visibility on assembly / supplier quality / design issues. Without feedback from dealers or customers, robustness and quality improvements can get left behind. Warranty work is still completed, but visibility (concerns / survey data) is not present and the probability of the issue being identified is minimized by complacency.

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      It was buried in the armrest (the USB port). I had to dig all around to find the damn thing. I thought it was an utterly stupid location – complete unintuitive.

      And for the record – I have the Capitva at number four on my worst rental car list.

      • 0 avatar
        dtremit

        It might not be obvious, but it’s incredibly common — and functional, since you can route the cable out the front of the armrest and have the phone on the seat or console without a wire getting tangled up in the gear lever.

        I’m not going to swear by specific models, but Ford, Toyota, and GM use that location pretty frequently.

  • avatar
    nikita

    The 1987 Chevy Corsica was a fleet-only special. National stuck me with them and that may have contributed to buying a Ford in 1988.

  • avatar
    jhefner

    Seriously; this could also be combined with Derek Kreindler’s idea for a “Luddite” version; though sales may actually take off; especially if the price is right.

  • avatar

    I like the Captiva. I’ve always thought that the Saturn was one of the best looking “Equinox” derivatives so it’s nice that they kept it. I own the Pontiac version and while I like the way GM worked to make it look unique from the front it’s pretty obvious what it is. The Saturn looks much better.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    I agree that if a brand is going to introduce a fleet-only model, it had better be a modern competitive vehicle.

    If you want to dump cheap, outdated material into the rental fleet, start an offshoot brand so rental customers turned off by the mediocrity will not automatically associate it with your main brand.

  • avatar
    ClutchCarGo

    I actually thought that FoMoCo should have kept the Mercury brand alive as a fleet only brand. Badge your basic Fords as Mercs for rental and govt fleets. It keeps the production lines busy and saves the residual value of Fords.

    • 0 avatar
      Brunsworks

      That’s a great idea. Since there was basically no value left in the Mercury brand by the end anyway, this would have given Ford a way to at least save the name.

  • avatar
    dtremit

    The one part of GM’s strategy I have to question is the use of same-as-current names on the last-gen fleet cars. Captiva works because no one’s ever heard of it. But I’ll bet a lot of the target market for the new Impala wouldn’t ever realize that the 2013 Impala Limited they rented is a completely different car than the 2013 Impala at the dealership. Couldn’t they call it a Lumina again? Likewise, the last time around, the last-gen Malibu was actually just a “Chevy Classic.”

    Part of me wonders whether they should have retained one of their retired brands — I’ll go with Oldsmobile — for fleet sales. CarMax probably wouldn’t like it, though.

  • avatar
    Omnifan

    My 2006 vintage theory was to make the last generation of Taurus a “rental only.” Here’s the plan: Create a new LLC called “RentCo”. Lease the old Taurus plant from Ford. Lease the employees from Ford too (they were willing to do that back then). Make the cars and sell them only to rental companies. Take them in trade and then dump them in some third world country when low price will make them sell. This way, Ford never competes with itself like GM used to do with rentals. Last phase would be to borrow $6B and pay a special dividend to myself. Then do an IPO and sell out. When the business went “poof” a year later, I’m on a beach somewhere enjoying my payoff.

    • 0 avatar
      86er

      Don’t forget to have your overpriced lawyers research tropical locales lacking an extradition agreement with the United States.

    • 0 avatar
      HeeeeyJake

      I love the idea of remarketing our fleet vehicles overseas. There’s more to it than we can examine here, but it seems allow a company to market the same product twice. And, once older vehicles (and older designs) have the bugs worked out, why not send them overseas with a short warranty knowing they are adequately reliable. And battle tested too!

  • avatar
    86SN2001

    “aside from the fact that GM thinks it can sell the thing for $40,000″

    If Ford can sell the mediocre Taurus for $40-$50K, then GM will have no problem selling the vastly superior Impala for $40K

    • 0 avatar
      Loser

      Please tell us all about your test drive of the new Impala. Were you able to drive the Taurus back to back with the Impala? After your test drive what areas did you find to be “vastly superior” to the Taurus?

    • 0 avatar
      tresmonos

      Ford doesn’t sell enough of the Taurus to justify a single shift of production. So… what will GM do?

      • 0 avatar
        86SN2001

        That’s true. The entire D3 platform that Ford recycled from Volvo has been a complete failure. First, The Five Hundred, Montego, and Freestyle failed, then Ford brought out three more failures on that platform (Taurus, Taurus X, and Sable), then they launched the Flex and Lincoln Taurus, which have been complete failures. Then in 2010, they Re-re release the Taurus to lackluster reviews and pitiful sales (which is why the are now fleet whoring it). Then, the Lincoln Flex was released only to become a complete failure. Then, the Explorer was released and while being the best selling failure, it’s still a complete failure. Horrid inside and out, way too expensive, terrible visibility , and plagued with issues. It’s no surprise they are fleet whoring that one too.

        They are garbage vehicles on a garbage platform.

        • 0 avatar
          cdakost

          I don’t know how you can call the best selling 7 row CUV/SUV a complete failure. I have a 2012 Explorer XLT and having spent almost 10 hours last weekend going through vehicles at the Twin Cities Auto Show, I still find the Explorer to be the most comfortable. While it is a very wide vehicle, I don’t have any trouble with visibility. I will say that I’m glad they included the blind spot mirrors in the upper corners, but with those I have no issues.

          • 0 avatar
            thelaine

            If that sucker has 7 rows I’m all over it, I don’t care how big a POS it is. I can take the whole orphanage on field trips.

          • 0 avatar
            cdakost

            Haha that should have been 7 seat but the thought of a 7 row Explorer is kind of fun.

          • 0 avatar
            thelaine

            I know cdakost. I was just being a smart ass but you are a good sport. (I did have a picture of a 7 row Explorer in my mind too though!)

  • avatar
    Varezhka

    Few other people have mentioned this, but would it be a good idea to take things one step further and setup a fleet only brand/logo?

    My friend’s five year old already thinks the bow tie badge is a rental car logo, and these kind of childhood association tends to stays with you for a long time.

    What would rental car companies say to having an Enterprise or an Avis badge on the hood? Would it be an extra advertisement to them or just an extra impediment to resale at the end of their fleet life?

  • avatar
    Loser

    I don’t understand all the hate for the Impala. Always had a good experience with them, they are comfortable, good power and very decent on gas. On the other hand I hope to never get stuck with another Caliber or Corolla.

  • avatar
    parabellum2000

    I’ve been very surprised by the prices of Captiva’s in my area. They actually seem like descent vehicles. There are plenty on the market, but they are all advertised at $19,000 and up. Many in around $23K. I doubt most of the cars sold for that much to the fleets.

    There are plenty of other small SUVs selling for less new. I guess it’s just the crazy used car market, but I couldn’t see spending more than $15K for one.

  • avatar
    jco

    that malibu/malibu classic was one of the WORST cars anyone, inlcuding GM, has ever made. there are several communist cars that were probably more reliable and less humiliating to be seen in (in America, at least). if you were driving one, you either got the last rental on the lot right before closing or your credit was so bad you couldn’t finance a Mitsubishi.

    that car, to me, symbolizes everything that’s bad about GM’s cars of the 90s. it’s like they got so ruined in every car segment (not trucks, those were still good) by the Japanese in the late 80s/early 90s that they just gave up.

    they still make them for fleets? that isn’t a joke?

    • 0 avatar

      Hah! Ouch! They still make a “Malibu Classic,” but now it’s based on the 2008-2012 Malibu. They did the same thing in 2008 with the 04-07 Malibu. Apparently it’s a strategy.

      • 0 avatar
        racer-esq.

        The 2013 fleet Malibu is just a de-contented 2013 Malibu. The 2012 Malibu is an all-around better car than the 2013 Malibu, on a 4-inch longer wheelbase, so that would be a mess for Chevy to continue offering it vs. the new Malibu that Chevy sandbagged to create a market for the new Impala.

    • 0 avatar
      Hoser

      “that malibu/malibu classic was one of the WORST cars anyone, inlcuding GM, has ever made. there are several communist cars that were probably more reliable and less humiliating to be seen in (in America, at least). if you were driving one, you either got the last rental on the lot right before closing or your credit was so bad you couldn’t finance a Mitsubishi.”

      QFT.

      I can’t imagine someone driving it and anything else and choosing the Malibu.

      I have to imagine most sales went like this:

      Buyer: “I’m looking for a car.”
      Salesman: “What’s important to you in a car? Mileage? Power? Handling? Comfort?”
      Buyer: “I like white.”
      Salesman: “I have this Malibu right here. It’s white.”
      Buyer: “Yes it is, I like white.”
      Salesman:”Come with me and we’ll get the paperwork started.”

  • avatar
    campocaceres

    The Impala I rented a few years ago was one of my favorite rentals ever. It was simple, comfortable, easy to use, and easy to drive. It, however, did not make me want a Chevy, but did help me understand why others might want one. If I had one today that had USB/iPod connectivity, I’d still be happy.

    The Malibu rental I got the next year, however, reminded me again that I dislike GM cars. It was newer and better looking, but I just didn’t enjoy being in it.

    From my personal experience, a fleet only vehicle that made things as easy as possible for people to get acquainted with the car wouldn’t be a bad thing. I’ve yet to drive a rental (and I’ve had plenty) that made me seriously consider the brand for my own car. The best fun was a Fiat 500, but pretty much all rental cars are temporary flings.

  • avatar
    Mandalorian

    Say what you will about the old Impala’s driving dynamics, (lack of) quality or refinement, but I am happy to see a sedan with a Front bench seat and column shifter soldier on.

  • avatar
    Lichtronamo

    Fleet only for a old, uncompetitive model is a good idea. GM is messing it up (compared to the Chevy Classic and Captiva)in two ways:

    1. Drop the “Impala” and “Malibu” names for the Limited and Classic respectively. Why confuse these has-been products (although the Malibu may truly be classic compared to the current retail car) with those Joe Q. Public is supposed to go down to their Chevy dealer and buy. The comparison of the fleet only product with competing retail offering will not be favorable to GM as the author points out.

    2. GM is missing a HUGE opportunity with the Limited to corner the police fleet market much in the same way that Ford did with Crown Vic. The W-Body would have to cost less than the imported Caprice and would relieve a lot of the long-term maintenance concerns of the Australian vehicle (as well as nationalistic purchasing policies). The W-body would probably also undercut the Ford Taurus based Police Interceptor while addressing some of its major shortcomings for police service highlighted in the earlier TTAC review if only because the hardpoints of the basic platform predate the chopped look for DLO. Note that the original Ford Fivehunred/Taurus would also probablly make an even better police service car…

  • avatar
    makabe

    I really liked this article because it made me snort my milk. Keep it up, Doug.

  • avatar
    Carl Kolchak

    Always wondered why the Des Moines airport was called i”International”. Worked there for while and flied home to Vegas. Great little airport. 1st time I flew into there, had an Aveo. Now there’s GM’s finest hour (sarc)

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      I would imagine flights to Canada are all it would take to be “international” in the airport world.

    • 0 avatar
      corntrollio

      You don’t even need to have scheduled commercial flights to another country to be called “International”. Some airports just use it as a marketing term. A good example is Gary/Chicago International Airport. I think it only has one scheduled commercial route, and it’s not international.

      A lot of these “international airports” may be able to deal with customs and immigration issues for cargo planes and charters, but in some cases you need to give advance notice because they don’t have full-time staffing.

      However, regardless of whether it has the name “international” or not, an airport has to be cleared by Treasury/Customs, the Attorney General, and Health and Human Services in order for international traffic to land there.

      John Wayne Airport (no “international” in the name, I believe) in Santa Ana/Orange County, CA and Alaska Airlines got in trouble for this. Alaska started up a Vancouver flight from John Wayne, but the airport wasn’t a permitted port of entry then. They thought they didn’t need customs facilities because the passengers went through immigration/customs in Vancouver before boarding the aircraft, but Customs requires occasional spot-checks in the US to ensure preclearance is working properly. John Wayne is a port of entry now, and they even have proper customs facilities now for flights that can also handle flights that don’t pre-clear, but Alaska had to start routing the flight through Seattle to make it compliant.

    • 0 avatar
      glwillia

      Same thing with the Port Columbus International Airport, in Columbus, Ohio. It has weekly flights to Cancun (mostly because of OSU’s spring break), and Toronto. The currency-exchange counter is in some remote corner of the airport where they keep half the lights off because there’s no foot traffic, and two of the most bored-looking employees I’ve ever seen.

  • avatar
    Kevin

    Doug, the only mistake in your analysis is your premise that a Camry is somehow a better car than the Impala (yes, I’ve driven both 2012 models). It has the same squishy ride, decent sound system, and mediocre trim pieces the Impala does. The only difference is the Camry comes with a 4 banger (which will please the fuel economy nuts) and the Impala has a 300 HP V6 (which pleases the leadfoots among us).

    Other than that, they’re the same car.

  • avatar
    Ion

    I would never judge my opinion of a car (or brand) on a rental, subsequently I would never buy a former rental either. As a mechanic I’ve come to realize people beat the ever loving expletitive out of rentals. sadly there’s plenty of John Smiths out there though.

    • 0 avatar
      cargogh

      My friend, Murrell had a rented ’88 Grand Am, and he wanted me to follow him to Hartsfield to drop it off after a weekend to Knoxville. He had called Avis? about the pronounced oil leak. On I-75 he tried racing my ’86 GLH turbo, but the smoking automatic-equipped iron duke wasn’t cooperating. He was a smoker and still complained of the cloud coming out when he opened the door. I bet it was locked up after it cooled down. He didn’t really care.

    • 0 avatar
      George Herbert

      Ion – Sure, but try getting an extended test drive in something.

      I’ve got “a course” up in the hills I’d like to run a sports car through if I’m going to buy, but no way is any dealer going to let me add 20+ miles of twisties on a test drive, plus the drive there and back.

      Rent and take your chances on condition.

      I suppose the ultimate fix is becoming a well-known car writer, and then cars apparently fall from heaven upon your manly shoulders. To which I say, “bring it on”, and any car companies that want me to replicate my Highway 1 run writeup in their vehicle for a car+road report can contact me in the usual manners…

  • avatar
    Otterpops

    “You walk out to your car, which turns out to be an Impala Limited. You throw your bags in. And nine miles later you decide that you never, ever, under any circumstances ever want to come into contact with any Chevrolet product ever again. You silently pat yourself on the back for buying a Camry”

    This would be just as possible if the Impala weren’t a fleet-only car, so it does nothing to support your argument (which already had me convinced, mind you).


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