NASCAR auto manufacturers representatives met with the media Saturday morning at Homestead-Miami Speedway
ED LAUKES, Toyota
MARK RUSHBROOK, Ford
JIM CAMPBELL, Chevrolet
THE MODERATOR: Good morning, everyone. If we could have your attention. We’re going to go ahead and get started in the media center at Homestead‑Miami Speedway with representatives from all three of our manufacturers. As you face the stage sitting from left to right, joining us today are Jim Campbell, U.S. Vice President of Performance and Motorsports for Chevrolet; Mark Rushbrook, Global Director of Ford Performance Motorsports; and Ed Laukes, Group Vice President Marketing for Toyota Motor North America.
Jim, I’ll start with you. 15 Chevy drivers made the playoffs across all three national series, the most of any manufacturer. Today you’ve got two of the four teams competing for the Xfinity Series title. Can you talk about Chevrolet’s 2019 season and your thoughts heading into 2020?
JIM CAMPBELL: Well, thank you. It’s great to be with you guys. This is a tradition here with the three OEMs. Yeah, 15 Chevy drivers, obviously five made it into the playoffs on the Cup side, seven in Xfinity and three in the Truck Series, and so that’s a good sign.
We certainly want to drive more people to the championship Final Four, the Championship 4, and so that’s really the focus of what we’re doing here on truck and Xfinity. The season has been pretty good. Obviously didn’t bring the championship home last night. Congratulations to Matt and Mark, to you guys. It was a heck of a fight.
Xfinity is going to be terrific today. We’re looking forward to that. And on the Cup side, always hurts when you don’t have anybody in the Championship 4, but we’re clearly focused as our Chevy teams and our division on preparing ‑‑ obviously want to run a great race tomorrow and obviously going for the win. It’s an individual win, not a championship win, and then focus on 2020, and we have some good things coming at us next year.
Happy to be here. Looking forward to the race today, and obviously good race tomorrow to try to go for the individual win and then looking forward to ’20 and ’21.
THE MODERATOR: Mark, Ford Performance introduced the Mustang into Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series competition this year. Tons of momentum coming out of 2018, and then you won two of the first three races of the season. Now ten months later Kevin Harvick is on the verge of a championship, this time in a Mustang. Talk about the season culminating with Ford Championship Weekend here at Homestead‑Miami.
MARK RUSHBROOK: Yeah, just a comment first about the Ford Fusion that served us well for so many years in NASCAR, and to have it go out winning a championship with Joey Logano last year was just fantastic. And then from the time that we had introduced the Mustang earlier in 2018 to starting racing with it in 2019 it’s just been so well received by all of the fans in NASCAR. So many Mustang fans out there given what that car is, the iconic status that it has within our company, and to have it on track throughout the season now for NASCAR in the Monster Energy Cup Series has been fantastic, winning relatively early in the season in Atlanta with Brad in the second race and then Joey in Vegas, and continuing through the season.
Our teams have shown different strengths at different points in the season, and definitely Stewart‑Haas has been coming on strong with the Mustang through the latter part of the season and definitely through the playoffs with Kevin’s performance, especially at Texas, and excited to have Kevin in the Mustang here in the Championship 4, and looking forward to Sunday’s race.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you. Ed, first, congratulations on clinching the manufacturer’s championship in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series last week at ISM Raceway and last night in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series. Toyota has won more this season than any other manufacturer across all three national series. 18 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series wins, 13 in the Xfinity Series and 11 in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series. Talk about Toyota’s championship run this year.
ED LAUKES: Yeah, thank you. It’s actually 12 after last night.
THE MODERATOR: Sorry.
ED LAUKES: Good morning. Everyone. Thanks for spending a little bit of time with us. I think first of all, congratulations to Mark and Team Ford on that championship. It’s always good to see Crafton out there.
Quick announcement: In the spirit of Chevrolet and Talladega, we’re going to be having a secret team meeting at 2:00 p.m. in the Cup garage. Jim, if you see some commotion out there, you’ll know that ‑‑
JIM CAMPBELL: Oh, it starts.
ED LAUKES: That’s what that’s all about.
JIM CAMPBELL: Can I respond?
ED LAUKES: Of course you can respond. Go ahead.
Obviously this has been a fantastic season for us across all three series. We’re really excited about, first of all, Christopher running tonight, but this whole thing started in Daytona as you all know. In the spirit of what happened at the Joe Gibbs organization, having J.D. pass and then having the three Gibbs drivers win at Daytona really started off what we would say was a magical season for us, and hopefully we’ll be able to finish it off next year.
In reflection, I started in this job in 2007, and we were looking through some of the statistics, and in 2007 Chevy won 26 races and Rick Hendrick’s team won 18, so for us to even get to that point from 2007 to 2019 where we not only can match but potentially pass the pinnacle of Hall of Fame Rick Hendrick and the legacy that he has within NASCAR is really special.
The manufacturer’s championship is obviously a piece of personal pride for us that we push all the time, so whether it’s in any one of the three series, it’s a big deal for us, so we’re pretty excited.
THE MODERATOR: We’ll go ahead and open it up to the media.
Gentlemen, obviously we all know 70 percent of sales are SUVs. I don’t anticipate ever seeing a RAV4 series or a race in SUVs, and we all know NASCAR is going hybrid. How long do you think what we term stock car racing with the shorter attention spans and everything that’s going on, how long do you think that motorsports could actually be relevant in America? Is it forever or could there be an end point?
JIM CAMPBELL: If you look at the history of motorsports, there have been turning points all the way through. And the technologies have changed, the vehicles we race have changed, and that will continue. And it’s as much about the technologies that go into the vehicles that we race and how we relate those technologies and the tools we use to prepare the race cars to our production side of our business, either in the showroom with similar technologies in our cars, trucks and crossovers, or the tools with which we prepare to race get honed and refined and improve so that when we go to apply them to the production side, they’re even better.
What’s going to happen going forward? You know, we just came out of SEMA, and that’s the aftermarket parts convention or trade show, if you will. We have 41 internal combustion engines that are great engines. We have the most of any OE in the industry. However we also are trying to look forward, and so we brought a 1962 C10, which we call the E10, and what we did is a concept crate electric propulsion system. It’s the second one we’ve done in two years to really look forward. 41 internal combustion engines, we’ve got that covered, but what could be next.
Racing gives you the same opportunity. You’re going to continue to leverage what you have but you also have to look forward, and you do that with the series but also with the other OEMs, and I expect that in every series.
MARK RUSHBROOK: Yeah, I think I would add to that, there is still so much passion out in the world from fans for cars and for motorsports. I know inside of our company, inside of Ford Motor Company and inside of the Ford family there’s a lot of passion for cars and motorsports and competition to be able to connect with those fans and customers, to be able to learn and innovate and have a tech transfer to use those same tools to make our ‑‑ to be competitive and winning and racing and to use those same tools to make our road cars even better. That definitely applies even today as we’re racing a Mustang on the track. It makes our F150s better.
Our customers come here and they watch Ford be successful on track, and even when they see a Mustang on the track, they’ll still go home and buy an F150. It’s there today. We expect it to stay in the foreseeable future.
Yes, motorsports is going to change. We’re excited about the next‑gen car. It’s going to be even more relevant for the technology that’s inside of it, and especially with hybrid coming in that in the future, as well, and everything that we’re doing on the street cars, we think it’s just going to keep growing.
ED LAUKES: Yeah, just real quick, we have a different strategy obviously than Mark and Jim’s group do. We are still firmly in the car business and plan to be for a significant period of time. We just announced an all‑wheel drive on Avalon and Camry, we’re looking at Corolla right now, so that will be a significant piece of the strategy. We think the electrification message, whether it be hybrid, full electric, different types of power trains are going to definitely play a piece in the future. But racing somehow, someway, the evolution I think will happen over time, and we’re still pretty bullish about it.
Jim, it wasn’t that many years ago that Jimmie Johnson was winning another championship, but in the last three years, your guys have not made the Final Four. Haven’t won that many races in the last three years. To put it simply, what happened? What is happening maybe?
JIM CAMPBELL: Yeah, it’s a good question, and we obviously spend a lot of time on our competitiveness on the track. I think a couple things. One, if you look at the ‑‑ we’ve had long‑term relationships with the big three teams. 50 years with Richard Childress, 35 plus years with Rick Hendrick, 10 plus years with Ganassi, and a lot of the affiliates have been with us for quite a while.
If you look at the drivers, we’ve had some amazing young drivers that turned into winning drivers that turned into championship drivers that then retired, and so we have a younger crew. If you take Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch out of the average age, our average age is like 26 years old. So what’s exciting is at one point Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. were the young guys. We’ve got the young guys now. It’s an amazing thing to watch how they’re progressing. Some of the drivers have been to these tracks one, two, three times, four times. So every time they go, they’re learning a lot more.
Secondly, we switched the car from the SS to the Camaro ZL1, and I think we were hopeful we had done a great job on that. I think the car is actually like at the back half of the season ‑‑ the last half of the season, six of our seven races were won in the back half of the season, so I do see improvement there, and I don’t know if you’d call it a press release, but next year we’re going to come out with a ZL1 1LE, and in the production side of our world, that’s our highest performing production car. Similar to the ZL1, but it has kind of higher performance elements to it from aero to chassis, and so we’ve incorporated those into the 2020 car that we put the release out and the rendering on.
And then I would just say we can continue to bolster the tools we have from our simulation, driver in the loop, the sim that we do as well as how we’re preparing with our teams. The aero work we did on the 2020 was done together with those three teams and our affiliates, and I’m excited about what that can be for the future.
Listen, we’re a performance sport, so there’s no excuses here. We’ve got to do better. We expect to do better. If you look at the history of Chevrolet, 39 manufacturer’s championships, 31 drivers, but that’s all history. We’re interested in the next chapter, and that’s what we’re focused on.
Mark, got off to a good start on the weekend with the win last night. Of course Cole Custer is running today for the championship, and we found out this week that he’s going to be moving up to the Cup Series next year. A lot of positive things going on. What can you do as the manufacturer to help some of these younger drivers develop in the Cup Series?
MARK RUSHBROOK: Yeah, so we have started putting a lot of focus on our driver development over the last several years, and a lot of the things that we can bring to the party is simulator time, which gives them extra time not just to practice driving the car and getting familiar with different tracks but to also practice and be more effective at their communication or evaluation skills, what do they feel in the car, how do they communicate that back to the crew chief and then make changes, so you can go through all of that in the simulator to try to advance and prepare them.
Some of the other things that we’re doing over the last two years have been using our IMSA program with the Mustang GT4 cars to put our truck drivers and our Xfinity drivers into getting them more seat time, first of all, getting them more road course time and more data analysis, again, more feedback, more training, more communication, and specifically for Cole Custer, he’s been doing that for the last two years, as well. So that helps develop him as an individual.
We’ve seen Cole ‑‑ for a lot of reasons beyond those, Cole has matured and grown a lot over these last two years, and we’re excited to see him taking that step up to Cup next year.
Jim, your 2020 Cup car, you talk about improvements; where do you think you’ll improve the most? It looks like it’s a little bit less pointed, maybe a few fewer aero pockets on the hood area, and I guess a potential rear change?
JIM CAMPBELL: Yeah, first of all, when we introduced the ZL1, the ZL1 1LE on the production side wasn’t quite out yet, so this gives us a chance to align with our top Camaro in terms of the street production side. You saw the rendering; we did kind of soften the radius of the front fascia, so that will help on pushing, when the guys are pushing. That will help. There’s also some aero elements that are related to the production car that are in the race car, and so I think that we went to the tunnel, we did our submission with NASCAR, and in the submission, Ford and Toyota are in that when we do those submissions, and so we got approved, and we’ll be racing that this coming year.
And I think on the rear, we didn’t do the rendering of the rear of the car, but it does have ‑‑ it looks more like the production car, which I like a lot, and so ‑‑ but again, it’s a performance sport. It’s a new car, it’s all about how we perform, and so that’s our focus.
Does it look a lot like the Toyota, the rear?
JIM CAMPBELL: We will put a rendering out on it, but no, it does not. (Laughs.)
From what you know about the 2021 car and what you’ve seen and what you’d like to see, what are your thoughts on it?
MARK RUSHBROOK: Yeah, so we’re excited. It’s a very exciting time for NASCAR. To see all the technology and architecture changes that are going into next gen, to see the sport with the different OEMs and different stakeholders working together to put the best thoughts and ideas into that car, it’s had a very successful test already, continuing to progress the design and freeze the design and more tests coming up, I think the fans are going to be excited once they see the final versions of the car, the Ford, Chevy, Toyota versions, and the racing that it’s going to bring on track. And then leading beyond ’21 to further technology with hybrid I think is important for all of us as manufacturers and is going to be something exciting for the fans to see what that technology can do on track, as well.
ED LAUKES: I mean, I think the evolution was overdue and had to happen, so one way or another there needs to be new blood brought into the sport, new team ownership brought into the sport, and this is the way that it’s going to happen.
I think the vision of Jim France and of NASCAR right now was very, very appropriate, and there’s a lot of people that have a lot of different feelings about it that aren’t really, I don’t believe, fully knowledgeable of the work that’s going into it. But the collaboration that’s happening amongst our three groups bringing forward to have spectacular racing in 2021 is fully at the forefront, and I think everybody will be really happy when it happens.
JIM CAMPBELL: I would just add, when you see the proportions of this car, it fits the production vehicle even better, particularly in the rear plan view. It matches up to where the Camaro is, and we’re really quite excited about that. Obviously you’ve got ‑‑ finally we’ve got symmetry between left‑ and right‑hand side. We needed that so it looks more like the street car, independent rear suspension. We’ll have a rear trans axle, and then on the wheels we’ll have a wheel that really mirrors a little bit closer to what you see on the production side in terms of size. So those are some of the things we’re excited about, and it has been a collaboration ‑‑ NASCAR has been pulling us together to meet on this on a regular basis with the three OEMs and our partners, and it’s been a really productive kind of journey and happy to say it’s going to happen in ’21.
I’ve got a question for all three of you and then a quick follow‑up for Ed. Talking about this sport and all three of you sit here as far as the championship is concerned, how important is it each year to sit at that table, regardless of which of the three series it is, that competition and fighting for a championship, how important is it for you guys from a manufacturer’s standpoint to keep bringing these big trophies home?
JIM CAMPBELL: Yeah, listen, this is the goal. You’ve got a number of goals as a manufacturer, one is a manufacturer’s championship, but equally important and I think from a consumer standpoint even more so is driver’s championship, so the goal is to get here in the Championship 4. So for us in Truck and Xfinity, excited about the fact we got here. Obviously didn’t win last night, have a chance with two really talented drivers going up against two other really talented drivers to go for a championship to add potentially to the history of Chevy in terms of driver’s championships.
On the Cup side, to be up here is painful to not have a championship driver. This is racing. If you have highs and lows, it’s all about how you respond. We’re in six series with our company with three divisions. We’re obviously here with Chevrolet but we have two other divisions, and when you are winning and vying for championships, you focus on how you keep the momentum going. When you don’t, it’s all about digging in and getting back on the trajectory of success.
That’s racing. We’ve been in this over 100 years. Louis Chevrolet was a co‑founder of the company. Him and his brothers, they raced. They happened to race at Indy, performance in racing, and that spirit is alive and well in our company today.
With that, happy birthday to Ed, 40 years at TRD.
MARK RUSHBROOK: Yeah, for Ford Performance and Ford Motor Company, our very first pillar of why we exist and what our mission is is to win races and championships that matter. The NASCAR series, we’re here because it is a series that matters, races that matter. So we want to win each and every race, and we want to win the championship. That is our goal.
The other pillars that we have are, as we’ve talked, innovation and tech transfer, people development, employee pride and satisfaction and connecting with our fans and customers, and those four other pillars are greatly affected by the first pillar of winning those races and championships. So if we’re able to win a race or win the championship, it makes our story that we’re telling our fans and customers so much better. Our employees are proud that they come in to work on Monday morning and the home page talks about winning the race or winning a championship. It’s a prove point for our technology. So yeah, it’s one of our pillars, but it’s the most important pillar is to win those races and championships.
ED LAUKES: Yeah, I think it’s pretty much the same that these guys have covered. I talked a little bit earlier, 2007 is when we came into the sport, and that year that Chevrolet won 26 races, remember, we won none, and we were actually watching qualifying in many cases closer than we were watching the race because we knew that competitively we were not going to be up there. But it has really become also an internal rallying cry not only for our internal team members and all of our plant workers but also for all of our dealership associates. There’s so many folks out there that work in dealerships that are race car fans and racing fans, and they really love the fact that they get a chance to be able to see a Toyota in Victory Lane.
Ed, how big considering where you were in 2007 has this season been, a statement for the company to do what you’ve done now?
ED LAUKES: Yeah, so as I said earlier, I think the biggest thing is when you reflect back on 2007, it’s hard for us to even envision that we would get to this point. To have three of the four cars in the championship Final Four, to have 18 wins potentially 19 and eclipse the Hendrick organization, who by the way when I started in 2007, Rick was a really big help to me of helping come into the sport. I relied upon him and Roger Penske to help me and show me the way as we came in. It’s a huge deal for the company, absolutely.
Jim and Mark, most years there are various rule changes, and it allows teams and manufacturers that are behind to kind of work ahead and kind of catch and close that gap. Next year obviously there aren’t those types of rule changes. What is to keep from happening you guys being here a year from now and the same manufacturer dominating with wins and potentially the Championship 4 because there aren’t that many rule changes. I know, Jim, you’ve got a different car, but still, what is the key to keep what happened this year from happening next year?
MARK RUSHBROOK: Yeah, I think for us, the rules changes for 2019, it took us a while to get our teams and our own heads around what those changes were and the aerodynamic effects especially, and I think we’ve seen some stronger performance in the latter half of the year, which we hope to continue into 2020. I would also say that there are still rule changes for 2020, although the packages aren’t changing, some of the things like reduced wind tunnel time will be in place, and the effectiveness of your tools like aero, computational fluid dynamics will come into play more than wind tunnel testing is today.
There’s still going to be, I think, some balance shifts. Maybe we’ll see who has the best aero CFD tool.
JIM CAMPBELL: Yeah, I would just say it’s all about optimizing all of your testing time and your simulation time to give the drivers a best chance of unloading quick, adjusting quickly and then executing in the race. I think that’s really what it’s about. There’s limited on‑track testing, so it really comes down heavily to simulation, driver loop activity. There is some aero testing. We’re limited, so we have to make sure every minute of those aero tests is productive, so that’s what we’ll do as a team. We have three major teams and we have a number of affiliates that we’ll use that to our best advantage. But it’s going to be about execution.
You talked about collaboration on the 2021 car. Can you explain in your own terms what the hybridization model will look like or have y’all come to an overall agreement or are you all three on different platforms at this point?
JIM CAMPBELL: Well, we’re working with NASCAR on it. I mean, the details of that are still yet to be finalized. I think it would be more oriented to a spec system than unique R&D for every system. But the final decision on that is yet to be made, and obviously that would be the vehicle in ’21 would be package protected for that, and then the following year is kind of the target time frame. But more work to do there, and a lot of those details we’ve got to still work out.
MARK RUSHBROOK: Yeah, I think more broadly on your collaboration comment or what we have all said about collaboration on the car, a lot of it was sitting down over a year ago where we said, okay, what is important to us as manufacturers to have in the car in terms of technology or architecture, what’s important to the sport, what’s important to the fans. And there’s always some give and take there to find that right balance, and I think everybody worked together well because we all are stakeholders in the sport. We want it to be successful to find what those things were, and that’s what is being designed into the car today.
And then as Jim said, for the hybrid system, we don’t have any details that we can talk about today, but the same approach is being taken to defining that system.
ED LAUKES: Yeah, it’s really early, but electrification is part of our future, and as these two guys both said, the collaboration piece of the thing is try to make it more relevant on the racetrack, so from a power train perspective, that’s a big deal, but we’ve got a lot of work to do. And also, everything that’s happening from a hybrid perspective, electrification perspective is changing so rapidly with the technologies that are changing so rapidly and we also want to make sure that it’s still relevant to race fans. We’ve got a road ahead of us, but based on the success at that we’ve had for the 2021 car, I think the road looks pretty good right now.
To kind of follow up on that, I remember a conversation with Doug Duchardt when he was with GM at Bristol in I want to say 1999. He said if we want to common templates Chevrolet would pull out. Well, of course they didn’t, but my question is if we go down the road and go to a crate engine similar to what we’re seeing in the Truck Series, what is the interest of the manufacturers at that point?
JIM CAMPBELL: There’s no crate engine for Cup Series. We will be racing a Chevrolet engine.
Period, going forward?
JIM CAMPBELL: Yeah, as far as I can see, we will be on a Chevrolet engine, as we are today. So that’s where we’re at, and I don’t see that changing. But listen, that’s why we meet with all the stakeholders in the sport, to make sure we’re healthy going forward. But I know there’s been a lot of talk in radio and in the articles around, is it going to a spec engine in the Cup Series, and it is not. So I’m not sure if that answers that question, but that’s where we’re at.
You guys were talking about commonality. I just wonder if we ever got to a point where we might see that ‑‑
MARK RUSHBROOK: Yeah, I think all three of us agree that the heart and soul of the race car is the engine and the body, and that’s where the focus has been for the next‑gen car, to make sure that we keep our own brand engines and our own independence there in that development of those engines and in the body and the shape and the styling and the aero performance of that body. And we expect that to continue. That’s why we’re in racing.
If it gets to the point I think for any of us as manufacturers ‑‑ I don’t want to speak for you guys, right, but if there’s no relevance for the manufacturer, then we’d just be in it as a sponsor, then we don’t have that same connection like we do today.
ED LAUKES: Yeah, I think the quote is if we can’t have specific relevance in the race car, then we’re probably not racing.
We have had growing ‑‑
ED LAUKES: Significant.
We’ve had growing pains in the Truck Series this year clearly with Ilmor, so my next question is we see factory teams in Formula 1 and in other racing series. That being said, we’re also getting to the point where we’re not necessarily putting the best drivers, the most qualified drivers in these race cars, we’re putting the ones that bring the biggest check, and I’m wondering, will it ever come to a point where the factories feel healthy enough that they can do a little more? I commend all you guys for your driver development programs. Ford has really stepped up, Chevrolet stepped up, you guys have clearly been ahead of the curve when it comes to that ‑‑
ED LAUKES: We’re actually bullish on Chevrolet because most of those young drivers have come through our development program. (Laughter.)
At what point do you all get more involved so we put the best product with the best driver behind the wheel in these race cars?
ED LAUKES: Well, I don’t think we have a driver that shows up with a big paycheck, I mean, with a big check. I think the work that Joe Gibbs and JGR has done with regard to sponsorship and that model has worked very, very well for the Joe Gibbs team. But I don’t know whether or not that works across all ownerships, and I think part of the cost reductions that are going to have to be baked into the sport over time are designed to be able to bring new ownership into the sport, and I think that will happen.
MARK RUSHBROOK: Yeah, I think a lot of what we’re doing at the Cup level with the next‑gen car for relevance but also to take some of the money out of operating a car, a similar approach and discussion needs to happen around the lower level series, with Xfinity and Truck, to still allow competition and great racing but at less money. And then it reduces the need for a driver to bring family money or sponsorship money to it, and they can help advance through the series based upon talent. Is that fully there today? No, I don’t think it is, but I think that’s something that together as stakeholders in the sport we do need to work on.
JIM CAMPBELL: Yeah, obviously we’ve got ‑‑ we have a lot of young drivers at Chevy that come from a variety of different places. I remember when Rick Hendrick called me, and this was like in 2010, and he says, I just signed a 14‑year‑old named Chase Elliott. Obviously coming from a family from the sport, I got that part, but still, that’s a big bet for 14 years old, and there are some really talented young drivers. And some have links to the sport and some have sponsor money and some don’t. In our driver development program, you’ll probably see a little bit of each. I do think in the end, it’s a performance sport, what I said earlier. The top performers will rise. That’s kind of the way I see it.
ED LAUKES: I think it’s interesting, the comment that you made, I think part of the work we’re doing with driver development is trying to actually have them be marketable. As they learn and grow, they have to understand that their value is beyond winning races. So we teach them about social media and we teach them about the things that I don’t think many of the drivers and maybe some current gen and maybe some of the ones that are a little bit older are recently retired, they were on board on that. They didn’t understand that that relevance was an integral part of who they were as drivers. And I think that’s helping a ton as far as them being able to be relevant with some of the sponsors.
THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, thank you for your time this morning, and good luck the rest of the weekend.
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