By on February 8, 2015

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If you’ve ever read a book on the automotive industry, you’ll note that many of them provide you with narratives behind the scenes of some of the industry’s most important moments. Once Upon a Car tells of the US government’s decision to bail out General Motors and Chrysler in 2008 and the steps taken by those companies to rebuild themselves. Go Like Hell covers the challenges faced by the Ford Motor Company in its quest to beat Ferrari at the 24 Hours of LeMans, describing how $1 billion could be spent on a racing program in the 1960s. Though these books provide the readers with some interesting subjects to think about, only a few of the automotive industry books that document the background behind important corporate decisions will actually make their audience laugh.

One of the few books that can accomplish the feat of its audience laughing is the book Arrogance and Accords, which has been alluded to on TTAC more than a few times. Written by Steve Lynch (Full Disclosure: Steve Lynch is also a TTAC contributor), the book tells of a scandal at American Honda, where executives in the sales division were found to have solicited kickbacks from dealers in order to give dealers a favorable allocation of Honda cars throughout the 1980s and early 1990s. Eventually, these Honda executives were brought to justice on federal charges.

During the 1980s and early 1990s, Honda cars routinely sold for over the sticker price and dealers couldn’t get enough inventory. The Accord, Civic, Prelude, and later, the CR-X, were winning accolades left and right, and buyers were willing to pay a premium to get their hands on one. Owning a Honda dealership was like having a license to print money, and many dealer principals quickly became millionaires. Despite the profits generated on the retail side, the salaries (even including bonuses) made by the people in American Honda’s sales division were low. Since these were the people in charge of allocating Honda product, they were more than happy to take a bribe or kickback in exchange for a favorable allocation of product.

Some of the people involved in the dealer kickback scandal were real characters. One man ended up stealing and married his own aunt (by marriage). Another had a dealer pay for a crew chief for a motor racing team he was a part of. One enterprising gentleman set up a sales training seminar (the Honda employee was a partner in the marketing company) that Honda dealers had to pay a large sum of money to attend, or their Honda shipments would be at risk. Many of these men had secret partnerships in Honda dealerships in exchange for granting a franchise to the main dealer principal. They also had dealers pay for houses, Porsches, Mercedes-Benzes, BMWs, and ‘gift’ them Rolexes.

There were many dealers that took part of bribing the Honda sales division, but none back out looking as bad from the Honda scandal as Rick Hendrick. Hendrick managed to have almost everyone involved in the distribution of new Hondas on his payroll, including the North Carolina zone traffic assistant in charge of distributing cars that arrived at the port. All of these people were paid in order to ensure the Hendrick dealers were always flush with new Hondas. He paid some of their mortgages and some of the top executive had access to his private jet. Furthermore, a great number of Acura franchises (compared to any other individuals) went to Hendrick. Hendrick ended up pleading guilty to one count of mail fraud. (He ended up being pardoned by Bill Clinton.)

A large part of this book covers the launch of Acura and how it might have been bungled from the start. Lynch characterizes the Acura sales division as a place where the “less intelligent” or clean members of Honda sales division ended up. While Acura was being pitched in the mid-1980s, it was stated that Acura could sell 300,000 cars by 1990. (At the time that number was quoted, Honda was selling 550,000 cars per year.) As a result, existing Honda dealers and other individuals were clamoring for an Acura franchise with the added profit margin in selling luxury cars compared to proletarian Hondas. However, Acura dealer selection involved kickbacks to Honda executives as well, and there were no customer satisfaction requirements to retain the franchise.

Furthermore, even though some Acura dealers were fully committed to the brand, with expensive new showrooms selling solely Acuras, if their dealer principals didn’t bribe the right people, other dealers with significantly worse showrooms and atrocious customer service could be allocated a better mix of cars. The product didn’t help as much either, as the Lexus LS400 and Infiniti Q45 debuted, with both sporting V-8s and rear-wheel-drive. Overall though, throughout the early 1990s, Acura struggled with a good number of its dealerships being unprofitable and its customer satisfaction scores lower than other luxury brands. Lynch argues a big part of that may have had to do with how Acura dealers were determined.

Apart from the Acura launch, Lynch also details some absolutely hilarious moments, such as building Honda dealerships in the middle of nowhere so an executive could sell it to a dealer and keep the profits for themselves, finding out who potential NSX customers were from the clean Acura dealerships and giving those names to their cronies, and steering the allocation of Accord wagons to crony dealers, leaving many clean dealer without any. (However, the Accord wagon ended up being unpopular, so the clean dealers had the last laugh on that one.) Another story involves turning to diverting money from Honda’s own advertising funds to make up for the graft.

In the final third of the book, Lynch informs the audience how people in the Honda sales division were charged by the federal government for the dealer kickbacks and embezzling the money from Honda. Utilizing the documents from the federal investigation of the Honda executives, Lynch chronicles how the trials and tribulations went, noting the comments Honda executives made about their corruption on the stand, during questioning by the Honda human resources department, and by federal investigators before the trial. These stories show how the malfeasance of the Honda executives came out into the open and the reactions to their actions.

As for obtaining the book, you cannot buy a hard copy of Arrogance and Accords since it’s out of print. On Amazon, used copies are being sold for at least $85 while the copies described as “new” as going for at least $190. Other sites selling hard copies of the book aren’t much better on pricing. However, on eBay, Steve Lynch sells a PDF copy of Arrogance and Accords for $24.95 along with an update in 2011 and his private e-mail address so you can talk to him directly about the book.

Now, since Steve Lynch is a contributor to TTAC, I needed to interview him. After all, it’s been more than 15 years since the publication of the book. That conversation will appear tomorrow.

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48 Comments on “Book Review: Arrogance And Accords...”


  • avatar
    Lie2me

    If I offered Steve a little money under the table do you think I could I get a new hardback copy from him?

    I’ll show myself out

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    Am I nuts for being far more interested in “Arrogance and Accords” than the actual Hondas being sold in the 90’s?

    I’ll have to look into the PDF file, does it have DRM chucked into it or can I put it on a USB?

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    How much did that POTUS pardon cost Rick? Was it as much as the one Marc Rich got?

    • 0 avatar
      CliffG

      Well, Marc’s involved some special “alone” time between Mrs. Rich* and Billy Bob. So, um, what did Mrs. Hendricks look like in the late ’90s?
      *Denise was not bad looking back then.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Ah, the late 80’s. My Prelude was getting some serious miles and needed some work; new exhaust from the exhaust manifold back, the drivers seat need reupholstered, and (don’t laugh young ones) the cassette player/radio needed upgraded to cd/radio. Was it one of the best cars I’ve ever owned? Yes, no question at all. So I go the Honda dealer in Indy. One of the grifters in a sports coat basically told me “You’ll pay over over invoice, you’ll take what we give you and it’ll be 4-6 months until your new Prelude gets here.” I went to the BMW dealer and got a red 325. I haven’t bought a Honda or Acura since then. Thought about it a few times but never pulled the trigger. I know I’m in a small majority who never bought another Honda product but I can’t be the only one. Now if I could get factory delivery on an ILX.

    • 0 avatar
      baggins

      Its likely the vast majority of the people involved are long gone. I can assure you that Hondas are available all day long well below MSRP.

      Honda has a lot more competition now.

      • 0 avatar
        an innocent man

        The Honda dealer near me has a “True Market Value” sticker along with the factory sticker. For the Odys I was looking at the other day, that TMV price was about 4 grand below sticker. For Accords it’s generally 2500-3000, depending on trim.

        • 0 avatar
          George B

          Since Honda only builds trim packages with no factory options, it’s guaranteed that multiple identical cars exist in any major market. Opposite case to early shortages of Hondas. The customer simply has to contact many dealers and work them against each other for the best out the door price. My experience was that negotiating the sales price to Edmunds average levels was easy, but the dealer finance department worked very hard to add profit after the initial price agreement.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      After a ’71 Z600 and a ’92 Accord I’ve been teetering on not getting another Honda, I just dont get what makes them so special.

      They felt well assembled but nowhere near as solid as my European rides, certainly not as durable.

      • 0 avatar
        nrd515

        I’m apparently immune to the Honda love “virus” or whatever it is. I’ve never even had a single thought of wanting to buy anything they made. Toyota yes, a couple of models actually did interest me, but never Honda. Kind of like Mazda, I don’t get it. I had a bunch of co-workers who had major Honda love in the early ’80s, one guy should have been hired by Honda to “spread the news”. I never got why he loved whatever model he had, as it was in the shop a lot, just like the old Cutlass he had before it, and the Cutlass fit him a lot better, as he was a very large guy.

      • 0 avatar
        joeaverage

        As I drove across town tonight in my ’99 CR-V I glanced at the odometer and watched another mile roll on. It stands at nearly 283,000 miles and very little trouble. A previous late 80s Accord hatchback I owned was last seen looking good with 325K miles on it.

        It might not be as exciting as a muscle car but this working Dad needs a reliable family hauler first. Play cars are lower on the priority list.

    • 0 avatar
      DeadWeight

      My comment below was made first, but suffice it to say that Honda & its dealer network is NOTHING like it was during the 80s and 90s.

      Essentially, because Hondas had such a great reputation and the competition was so awful (with a few exceptions, such as Toyota) in the 80s and 90s, this collusion amongst American Honda execs and dealers essentially served to not only “steer” inventory to favored dealers, but it also essentially created inventory/product shortages, which also helped dealers maintain artificially high retail pricing on their inventory.

      Today, my nearest Honda dealers are eager to compete with and match or even beat the prices quoted on cars from any competing dealership, whether Honda, Hyundai, Toyota, Ford or Chevy. This is radically different than it was during the time when I purchased my first Japanese vehicle, a 1994 Honda Civic EX (which was an excellent vehicle, btw, and superior to many vehicles costing much more at the time, even if I paid full sticker for it – the only vehicle I ever paid remotely close to sticker for – even though a Chinese exchange student at UofM paid me an insane amount of money for used, 4 years later).

      Today, I can essentially buy an Accord LX for 21k plus TTL, which is about what a Hyundai Sonata with similar equipment will cost me.

      How times have changed.

      • 0 avatar
        BadaBing373

        Just another data point:
        -In a suburb well north of Dallas TX, I bought a brand new 1993 Civic EX Coupe, 5spd manual transmission, with A/C, in August 1993. The MSRP was $14800 and afetr a lot of back-and-forth (about 3-4 hours of haggle) I ended up paying $13300. I still have the car to this day…presently @ about 163k miles. Never had any problems with it, never left me stranded. I do all my maintenance/repairs, except the timing belts.

    • 0 avatar
      ...m...

      …i had a similar experience trying to buy an insight in ’99; walked away from honda and never looked back..

  • avatar
    DeadWeight

    There are very few places or sites that delve into the dirty laundry of American Honda/Acura of the 80s/90s like this, with anything close to bringing an insider’s perspective to the table.

    I wasn’t even remotely familiar with how deep the rot ran until coming across some comments made by JB and Steve Lynch right here on TTAC.

    I now also have a better understanding as to why dealers were so uninterested in negotiating on the price of new circa-1993/1994 Honda Civics at the time that I bought one (my first Japanese vehicle).

    For those of you familiar with the ADM lysine price-fixing scandal of the same era, the parallels are somewhat similar.

  • avatar
    JSF22

    I bought a copy when it came out and am keeping it for my kids and grandkids to read. Lynch did a great job and your description of the book and the events is dead on.

    I worked at another company with several of the people who went to Honda and got caught up in this. As stupid and blatant as they were, I was only astonished it took so long to come out.

    I view Rick Hendrick as the Bernie Ecclestone of America. We will never know how much he paid for his pardon — we know he knows how to bribe now — but there’s little doubt he did. I’m sorry he had leukemia, I’m sorry his family died in a plane crash, but he’s still a crook plain and simple and I’ll never buy a car from one of his stores even though he owns just about every franchise in my town.

    • 0 avatar
      319583076

      Rick Hendrick motorsports includes something like Rick’s 10 commandments for success including things like being humble before God and truthful in all dealings. If the poor majority ever wakes up to the fact that this is precisely the kind of propaganda that serves wealthy, powerful criminals and hurts everyone else, humanity may realize its potential. Until then, kill ’em all…God knows his own.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      Hendrick bought a presidential pardon brokered by Roger Clinton by making a large donation to the Clinton Library.

  • avatar
    Cabriolet

    Yes i will not forget those days. Nor will my wife’s girl friend. i got screwed on the price for a new car and never forget it. My wife’s girl friend purchased a used Honda from this dealer and had quite a bit of trouble with it. Twice my wife asked me to help her out to get her Honda started. Dealer claimed their was nothing wrong but the problem was never fixed. Her mechanic tried but could not solve the problem. After a few months she received a visit from the Nassau County Police Dept with the good news that her car had 120,000 miles on the clock and not the 45,000 shown on the speedometer. Her car was purchased by the car dealer from a small used car dealer and the speedometer was turned back by the Honda dealer. Well she got her money back and the dealer was fined but to this day is still in business. I still hear from people not knowing about this dealer getting screwed. In error i used them for a recall while i still the Honda and they still tried to screw me. I
    had to call Honda home office to get my car back. To this day i will have nothing to do with Honda or their dealerships including Acura.

  • avatar
    toxicroach

    Why not pop it on Amazon? It’d take about 10 minutes to get it published. If people are paying $25, then surely at $10 it’d sell a good amount.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve Lynch

      Because amazon takes all the profits…

      • 0 avatar
        319583076

        Not true. I don’t know what the rights situation is for the manuscript – but publishing to Kindle gives an author two options: 35% royalties or 70% royalties. Amazon will do some marketing work and other things if you select the 35% option, the 70% option has some additional constraints.

        But, if you have the rights, they certainly don’t take all the profits…

        BTW, none of this information is in any way hidden from anyone. It’s all available from Amazon for anyone to review.

  • avatar
    rdclark

    I remember trying to buy a Civic wagon in 1980 or 81, to be our first brand-new car. What with the high price and the long wait, we ended up with a “1980 1/2” Datsun 210SL (right before the brand-name change).

    It would be 34 years before we were once again looking for a car in a class that Honda is competitive in. Too bad about those tiny rear windows on the CR-V.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    So, a question that others might be able to answer, why did the rot in Honda America not percolate into Honda Canada?

    Having negotiated the purchase of many new Hondas directly from dealers during that period (81, 82, 84 Civics, 87 Civic Wagovan, 86 Accord (demo), 89 Prelude (that one was used) and later 2 Integras) I would have to say that we never paid over sticker, always had a choice and generally received good service.

    • 0 avatar
      snakebit

      Speaking as a Honda dealer employee in Oregon during 1982-1985, we had waiting lists for pretty much every model, and they were posted on the showroom interior wall so that each buyer knew where their new car order ranked from week to week. We had a sign visible through the showroom glass that, “We’re not out of business, we’re just out of cars”. Buyers could order any model, and any color, and their purchase agreement stipulated that they would be charged whatever suggested retail was when their car was unloaded, as per the window sticker from American Honda, no surcharges. When we received allocation calls from the AHM zone office(it was very advantageos(sp)having the zone office and port of entry one hour away), AHM did their level best to fill our orders, and we would see those cars in 48 hours or less after allocation. In three years with them, I only encountered two disappointed buyers. One gentleman wanted to be on the lot when his 4WD Wagon arrived, and when the car carrier arrived, he wanted to unload his car personally, so that no one drove it but him. The carrier driver smoothed things over by promising to be careful with his car. Another buyer of an Accord sedan watched as his prospective car had its rear one third bent down when the carrier driver forgot to unsecure one remaining hold down chain before lowering the hydraulic ramp. In this case, the driver called the port explaining the mishap, and someone at the port guaranteed us that they would make a special trip the next day to bring us a duplicate car, and they made good on their promise. Between the people I got to work with, and the buyers, this was the best dealer experience I’ve ever dealt with.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      It happened in the US because of the Voluntary Restraint Agreement put in place on May 1, 1981. From that time until Japanese transplant factories were up and running, customers were given the shaft to keep the incompetent domestic manufacturers in business. Lots of people wanted cars that worked, but there were quotas set on how many could have them. As a result, there were far more potential buyers than there were Hondas. Everyone involved sought to maximize their profit per car, since supply was capped.

  • avatar
    otaku

    So, unless I missed something, it sounds like the main point of this book is to explain how Honda dealers are a bunch of corrupt a-holes. I think I’ll save my money, since my personal experiences already led me to a similar conclusion.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      +1.
      Just try dealing with their arrogant service department a week after you’ve bought a brand new lemon.

      • 0 avatar
        bullnuke

        And +1 to that. New ’98 Honda Civic with <10k miles on the clock, reverse gear shed its teeth. Service Department at Hidy Honda calls in the zone rep to tell me that I'd have to eat the cost of a new transmission because "We've got more lawyers than you can afford".

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      Back when we bought our current 1999 ‘V new, we went through a half dozen dealers. All had schemes and lies. The literally tried everything in the book I had bought about bad dealer stories written by a former salesman.

      Walked into the final dealer and told him what I wanted, what I would pay and gave him 20 minutes to make the deal work. He did and the price was good.

      They made it happen. I did come with my own money – did not use dealer financing and did not trade in our ’86 Accord sedan. Sold it privately for roughly twice the trade-in value in a week’s time.

      I think if you walk in and let them set the pace and direction of the transaction you can have a happy transaction but you’ll pay nearly the sticker price.

      If you walk in with an awareness of the going price for the vehicle, know about the vehicle (don’t rely on half-informed salesmen), and know what you want – the experience will be a better one. Bring your own money or credit union financing. No trades. Don’t let them add on etched glass or paint sealant or any other gimmick.

      Frankly I don’t mind paying a fiar price for a car but I detest being lied to or conned. I’ll walk in a heartbeat without explaination if that seems to be happening.

      I used the dealer once for a timing belt (I was too sick to do it myself that week but started and could not complete it). The other timing belts and maintenance I’ve always done myself. The dealer had fair prices and did what they said they would.

      Of course after the “Great Recession” passed the prices went way, way back up and I won’t pay their prices even at the parts counter. I can order what I need from an online OEM dealer for about 50% less.

  • avatar

    2002 was a year when I was in Honda dealership for first (and last) time in US. Sales person asked me right away “are going to buy Accord?”. I told him that I come to test drive one. He replied that they do not offer test drives then turned his back and walked away. It was the last time I set my foot in Honda dealership and since then never consider any Honda when shopping for the new car. I fact Honda was one of my favorite brand when I lived in Russia. Of course Hondas were not in the same league and were not as durable as German cars but were kind of rare exotic with kind of cult status (because of low suspension and engine) that nobody owned in the town while Audies, Fords, Opels and BMWs were a common sight.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Old habits die hard. To this day I have yet to have a positive experience at a Honda dealer, although I’ve owned three Hondas. it’s a shame, because I’m exactly the person those dealers should be marketing to. I can see the engineering company still lurking underneath Honda’s recent poor product planning and I start out with a bias toward almost any Honda product.

    The attitude is still very much “you’ll buy the product we want you to buy, you’ll pay MSRP, and our product is so good we don’t need to give you a test drive.”

    I once bought an Acura rather than a Honda solely because I found an Acura dealer that offered good service and no b.s.

    • 0 avatar

      I have been in Acura dealership not so long ago and remarkably it was not as bad as Honda dealership. I would rather say that experience was quite normal even though Infinity and BMW dealerships which I visited the same day (they all were actually were run by the same company) were much more pleasure to deal with, especially BMW – the guy was very well informed, well mannered black guy (not some thug from Afganistan), had a fun during test drive and was urging me to push limits of 3-series I was testing and he did not expect me making any decisions on the spot. Probably Acura has a much more difficulty in finding customers than Honda. With comparison with BMW and Infinity (G-series) Acura driving experience was underwhelming, could not imagine why someone would pay so much cash for Acura (only in America) if it gets beaten by every other luxury make and for much less you can buy a better driving family sedan like e.g. Ford Fusion. Original TSX had some merits and was fun to drive even though was not even close to luxury – just regular European Accord which could not hold candle to any of German designed car.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      Funny I had the opposite experience… I’ve bought three Hondas and the only problems/jerks I encountered was at the big, fancy Acura dealership. I bought a used Prelude there and the process was downright brutal. They made it about as difficult as they could with multiple lies and magical spreadsheet numbers that made no sense. Total it still ranks as the worst car purchasing experience I’ve ever had. They pulled all the tricks in the book including “misplacing” the keys to my trade-in so I couldn’t leave the lot. Then telling my rims had to removed before they would accept the trade-in. The BS level was off the charts.

      • 0 avatar

        The famous used car dealer experience! My first car in US was very used (over 100K miles on probably rolled back odometer) Ford Taurus which was total lie, rip off and nothing but trouble. I naively thought that unlike in Russia these things are already sorted out in US. Was I naive! Only other used car I bought was ex rental Ford Focus 2.3L for my son from Hertz car dealership. Car was terrific (still runs strong after 10 years and over 100K miles), fast, well handling and purchase was similar to retail – no haggling, lies and etc – just made down-payment and got extended warranty as a part of the deal. Later we used extended warranty twice – first to replace clutch converter which started to drip transmission liquid and second time dealer testing cooling system which turned out to be false alarm. In both cases did not spend a dime.

  • avatar
    mechaman

    two times in a Honda dealer, both times, “Well, that’s our price.” (Meaning, take it or leave it.) So, I left it. the second time was for my mother, I wanted her to have something reliable .. ducked that bullet too..

  • avatar
    geozinger

    All of the stuff described in the book makes sense when you have a hot commodity with constrained supply. I’m sure if Yugos had somehow been a fantastic car upon arrival (and similarly constrained supply lines), then they would have gone for a lot more than the $3995 originally advertised. As someone further up the strings mentioned, you can thank the VRAs for this mess.

    However, I could never understand the Honda Lovefest thing, either. My experiences with them date back to the mid 1970’s, with the cute little Civic that would rust to death faster than anything else (midwest snow belt), glass transmissions (you NEVER were supposed to “rock” a Civic out of a snow bank), and the horrendous CVCC servicing (look at that vacuum tube routing sometime. they’re all over the internet.). Plus it was unheard of to replace a water pump (at timing belt service time) if it wasn’t leaking.

    A woman I used to date was gifted (by her parents) a 78 Accord (in 1980). The Hondamatic was power sapper, along with the A/C which only blew out wisps of cool air. The front fenders were replaced by the dealer in a secret warranty in less than two years, but that didn’t help the sagging interior panels.

    This was also the company that couldn’t engineer odometers on their US cars in the 1990’s. I guess we’ve all collectively forgotten about that little scandal too, but I think that was happening as the book in the post was being published. To wit, the odometers on many Honda models were clocking miles faster than the actual miles driven. Great if you’re the dealer, as this accelerates maintenance schedules and better yet if your leases come in a little early. Not so great for the consumer.

    I never liked the Honda dealers I had to deal with on my mother’s two Hondas. The dealers were pushing all sorts of extra chemical and maintenance treatments on her on every visit. She bought a few of them (who really needs throttle body cleanings EVERY OTHER OIL CHANGE?), but once I got wind of that, my one brother or I started taking her car in for service. We eventually found an indy foreign car mech that would service her car(s) without all of the BS.

    Thanks for the reminder about these kinds of things. We’re all a lot better informed now thanks to the internet!

    • 0 avatar
      Toad

      In the mid 1980’s through early 1990’s Honda and Toyota cars (particularly the Accord, Civic, Corolla, and Camry) were simply much better vehicles than their competition. In fact, much of the competing cars from what was then the “Big 3” domestic manufactures were borderline terrible.

      The WWII generational bias against Japanese products was waning just as the baby boomers became wealthy enough to afford new cars. The boomers wanted better vehicles than their parents drove and Honda, Toyota, and Nissan had the right products at the right time. The rest is history.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      I haven’t cleaned the throttle body nor FLUSHED any fluids in 283,000 miles. I have changed fluids of course.

      Just use quality fluids and change them per the maintenance schedule.

      For my engine it is Mobil 1 and a Wix/Napa Gold filter. Wix and NG are the same filter. Every 5000 miles more or less. A few times I changed the oil earlier or later b/c the oil went black early or was still pretty clean at the 5K mark.

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    “All of the stuff described in the book makes sense when you have a hot commodity”

    Exactly! Just look at the queues at Apple stores when a new I-gadget was launched.

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