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Munich, Germany - Car enthusiasts voiced their fury on Monday at Germany's powerful automotive association after it admitted to having manipulated a survey for the nation's favourite car.
The scandal around the annual “Yellow Angel” prize dominated newspaper front pages after the 19-million-member Allgemeine Deutsche Automobil-Club came clean on having tweaked survey data for the coveted award.
Top-selling newspaper Bild likening the damage to the 111-year-old association's image to that of a wrecked car, with the headline: “It's a write-off.”
ADAC admitted to having inflated the number of survey participants tenfold, saying that more than 34 000 people had voted for the VW Golf as “Germany's Favourite Car”, when the true number was only 3400.
But it insisted the overall order of the ranking, in which the VW Golf was declared the 2014 winner, was accurate.
Speaking for many in a country where the car is sacred, transport minister Alexander Dobrindt demanded that ADAC “put the cards on the table” and show full transparency over what went wrong.
The association is best known in Germany for its “Yellow Angel” roadside assistance patrols who rush to the aid of stranded drivers, as well as for its rescue helicopters.
But the Munich-based club is also a major lobby group and a corporate entity that tests vehicle safety and sells commercial services, from car rentals and insurance to holidays and long-distance bus services.
“I messed up”
Greens party parliamentary leader and transport expert Anton Hofreiter said ADAC “cannot afford a fraud on this scale”, pointing to its “public responsibility”.
Founded in 1903, it is Europe's biggest automotive club, and its member magazine “ADAC Motorwelt” claims to have Europe's biggest circulation at 13 million.
Editor Michael Ramstetter, 60, ADAC's former head of communications, claimed responsibility for the dodgy survey and resigned as a result.
ADAC management said it was unaware of the deception and pledged to conduct the Motorwelt readers' survey under the supervision of independent auditors in future.
At a televised press conference, managing director Karl Obermair said he would stay on in the post, saying that Ramstetter “was not a pawn sacrifice, but a high-ranking executive of the ADAC”.
Pledging a full investigation, he said ADAC staff were demoralised by the scandal and had reacted to the news with “an emotional mix of outrage, anger and disbelief”.