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Dodgy survey taints Germany's powerful automotive association

BERLIN--German car lovers voiced fury Monday at the country's powerful automotive association after it admitted to having manipulated a survey for the nation's favorite car.

The scandal around the annual “Yellow Angel” prize dominated newspaper front pages after the 19-million-member auto club ADAC came clean on having tweaked survey data for the coveted award.

“It's a write-off,” judged top-selling newspaper Bild, likening the damage to the 111-year-old association's image to that of a totaled car.

The 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 Favorite Car,” when the true number was only 3,400.

But the ADAC insisted the overall order of the ranking, in which the VW Golf was declared the winner this year, was accurate.

Speaking for many in a country where the car is sacred, Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt demanded that the ADAC “put the cards on the table” and show full transparency over what went wrong.

The ADAC 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.

Greens party parliamentary leader and transport expert Anton Hofreiter said that the ADAC or Allgemeine Deutsche Automobil-Club “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.

The magazine's editor Michael Ramstetter, 60, the ADAC's former head of communications, claimed responsibility for the dodgy survey and quit as a result, admitting to one newspaper: “I messed up.”

ADAC management said it was unaware of the deception and pledged to conduct the Motorwelt readers' survey under the supervision of independent legal observers in future.

At a televised press conference, managing director Karl Obermair said he would stay on in the post, saying that Ramstetter “is not a pawn sacrifice, but a high-ranking executive of the ADAC.”

Pledging a full investigation, he said ADAC staff were demoralized by the scandal and had reacted to the news with “an emotional mix of outrage, anger and disbelief.”

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Karl Obermair, chairman of the management board of Germany's powerful automotive association ADAC, attends a news conference in Munich, southern Germany on Monday, Jan. 20.

(AFP)

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