German carmakers return awards amid evidence of rigged votes

A vote naming the VW Golf as Germany's most popular car was flawed.
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FRANKFURT (Reuters) -- Daimler, Volkswagen and BMW say they will return awards from Germany's ADAC automotive club after an external audit discovered the results of the once-coveted "Yellow Angel" award were manipulated.

The irregularities were uncovered during an audit of the award procedures by Deloitte, after allegations emerged last month that ADAC's popular ADAC Motorwelt magazine had massively inflated reader votes for the award.

ADAC, whose president Peter Meyer announced his immediate resignation on Monday, had said that 34,299 motorists endorsed the VW Golf in an award to determine the most popular car in Germany.

Deloitte on Monday said it had found evidence of "willful manipulation" as well as technologically flawed processing of data.

The audit found the order of four of the first five places had been manipulated. BMW's 3-series car, for instance, should have been in second place behind the VW Golf based on votes submitted, but inexplicably did not even make it into the top five.

The Golf correctly won the award but the Audi A3 was wrongly placed as No. 2 and the Mercedes-Benz A class was wrongly named No. 3.

Deloitte found 3,271 votes had been cast in favor of the Golf; 1,703 for the BMW 3 series; 1,664 for the Audi A3; 1,320 for the Mercedes A class; and 1,184 for the Skoda Octavia, according to an ADAC statement.

ADAC at first said the total number of votes had been manipulated but not the order.

See above right to download Deloitte's audit report as a PDF (in German).

Deloitte examined thousands of pieces of computer data and conducted interviews with ADAC employees. It said the since-departed director of ADAC communications, Peter Ramstetter, had simulated different scenarios on his computer about how the number and order of the votes could be manipulated.

ADAC said Deloitte would now examine the voting in the years 2005 until 2013 because it had found similarities in how the prize had been awarded in those years.

Volkswagen, which won the Yellow Angel with the Golf at the end of January, said it would return the award.

Daimler said it would return all the Yellow Angels it had been awarded in previous years. "Awards by the public are of great importance to Daimler, since these reflect the public opinion. A prerequisite for this is that readership votes are conducted in a correct manner. This was not the case with the Yellow Angel," Daimler said.

BMW said the Yellow Angel awards had lost their credibility so the automaker will return awards from previous years.

August Markl, ADAC's vice president, who will take over from Meyer until the next general assembly in May, said: "This is the most serious crisis in our 111-year history."

Thousands of ADAC members have left in disgust.

Markl vowed to bring sweeping reforms to ADAC, which has also come under fire for charging stranded motorists inflated prices for car batteries. Top executives have also been criticized for inappropriate use of rescue helicopters and jets.

ADAC which stands for Allgemeiner Deutscher Automobil-Club, has more than 18 million members, and its car test reports are followed closely in a country with a deep affinity for its automobiles.

Automotive News Europe contributed to this report

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