Volkswagen said it was considering giving back the award.
ADAC communications director Michael Ramstetter resigned in disgrace
after conceding he manipulated the results of the car club's coveted
"Yellow Angel" award for Germany's favorite car, which was won last
week by the Volkswagen Golf model.
"We've got our work cut out for us to repair the tarnished
reputation," said ADAC managing director Karl Obermair, who called
Ramstetter's actions "an inexcusable mistake".
"We're very sorry," added Obermair, personally humiliated himself
after he initially scolded media for reporting doubts about ADAC's
vote-counting. "This strikes at the very core of our existence. Our
goal is to restore our credibility."
ADAC has over 18 million members. Its Yellow Angel award can give a
fillip to sales in a competitive domestic market.
ADAC conceded that Ramstetter, the editor of ADAC's popular "ADAC
Motorwelt" magazine that calls itself Europe's biggest monthly with
18 million readers, massively inflated the results of votes, saying
34,299 motorists had voted for the Golf as Germany's favorite car
when it had only been 3,409 votes.
ADAC, normally a bastion of integrity whose car test reports are
followed closely in a country with a deep affinity for its
automobiles, said the order of the results was not tampered with — only the total number of votes.
But that caveat did little to calm the storm of protest in Germany
over the vote-rigging at what is usually ranked as one of the
country's most respected institutions alongside the Bundesbank and
the consumer watchdog Stiftung Warentest.
"It's up to ADAC to come clean with everything," said Transport
Minister Alexander Dobrindt, himself a target of ADAC criticism at
times. Dobrindt said the club founded in 1903 should start "showing
a little more modesty" in the future.
The sharpest criticism of ADAC, which stands for Allgemeiner
Deutscher Automobil-Club, came from Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer, a car
expert at the University of Duisburg-Essen. He said ADAC's reports
and rankings need to be reexamined.
"The car breakdown statistics and tunnel safety reports need to be
re-examined," said Dudenhoeffer. "If there are lies told about the
'Yellow Angel', other areas can't be ruled out."
ADAC has long wielded considerable influence in Germany. It coined
the slogan "Freie Fahrt fuer freie Buerger" (Free travel for free
citizens) that long served as a rallying cry against introducing a
speed limit on motorways.
The ball's in the ADAC's court now," said Peter-Heinz Thul, head of
VW's product communication, in an interview with NDR radio. He added
VW expects ADAC to thoroughly investigate the scandal. "We'll then
decide what to do with the award."
[to top of second column]
GERMAN CARMAKERS DEMAND CLARITY
The ADAC affair recalled another scandal about German car testing in
1997 when a Swedish motor magazine found Mercedes' A-Class tended to
flip while undergoing its "elk test", or evasive maneuver test.
German magazines did not detect the flaw. Mercedes first declined to
comment but later recalled the cars to retrofit added safety
German carmakers were also shaken up by the revelations and
reverberations from the vote-rigging at ADAC over a prize that might
be prestigious in Germany but of minor relevance abroad.
Daimler, maker of Mercedes-Benz luxury automobiles demanded speedy
clarification from ADAC. "We expect that ADAC will, in its own
interest, comprehensively investigate this matter and then inform
the general public," a Daimler spokeswoman said.
A Germany-based spokesman for Ford said: "The prize has a big
reputation. One should be able to assume that finding a winner is
done in a manner which is above board."
Helmut Becker a Munich economist who long worked for BMW, said the
ADAC scandal might trigger a broader shake-out.
"We need to take a more critical look at all the awards in the car
sector," he said. "I see a danger that vehicle comparison tests have
also been manipulated."
Franz-Rudolf Esch, a professor of brand management and automotive
marketing at the European Business School, said carmakers take the
awards seriously as they help sell cars.
"Generally speaking, prizes are important," he said. "It is a nice
decoration and an external validation. This has a particular impact
on manufacturers with weak brands. Clients feel they're doing the
right thing by buying a car that has been awarded a prize."
Another way to measure the importance of a prize is to look at how
companies themselves revere them, Esch said.
"The level of seniority of staff who accept the prizes give a good
indication of how important these awards are," he said.
(Additional reporting by Edward Taylor
in Frankfurt, Joern Poltz in Munich, Jan Schwartz in Hamburg;
writing by Erik Kirschbaum; editing by Ralph Boulton)
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