Germany's biggest auto association, the Allgemeiner Deutscher Automobil-Club, celebrates its 100th anniversary this weekend. The group’s “yellow angels” are famous for helping out stranded motorists on the Autobahn.
One of ADAC's "yellow angels"
Over the last century, the Allgemeiner Deutscher Automobil-Club, or ADAC, has evolved from a small club for motorbike enthusiasts into an enormous service provider with almost 15 million members across Germany.
The ADAC lobbies the government on behalf of motorists, offers insurance policies and advice to drivers, and provides an national and international recovery service in the case of break-downs. It operates 13 emergency rescue helicopters, publishes maps, guidebooks and motorists' handbooks, provides a car rental service and is planning to break into the financial services and leasing industries.
Motorcycles before cars
The ADAC was formed in 1903 as the " Deutsche Motorradfaher-Vereinigung," or German Motorcyclists' Association. Eight years later, as the motor car gradually grew in popularity, it got its current name. ADAC’s Jacqueline Grünewald told DW-RADIO that although the group has branched out into a range of service industries, its central purpose remains the same.
"The ADAC started out to help people on their travels. A hundred years ago there weren't many cars on the roads, rather mainly motorbikes. Our recovery and breakdown services remain our core business. Our most important achievement in a hundred years is the constant development and maintenance of our breakdown services," she said.
In Germany, the ADAC's 1,700 drivers and mechanics are known as the "yellow angels." Every year, they help out some three and a half million people with car problems. Grünewald said an ADAC worker arrives on average at the scene to help stranded motorists within forty minutes of getting a call. In 85 percent of cases, she says, they manage to get the vehicle going again.
German President Johannes Rau
“Every citizen has had to rely upon them at one time or another,” said German President Johannes Rau in a speech at ADAC celebrations in Stuttgart, according to the Associated Press.
Andreas Haase has been a “angel" in Cologne for four years. He says he invariable gets a friendly reception: "The people are always very grateful and friendly. Never once has anyone complained to me."
A club run like a business
While the ADAC is indisputably popular, some critics say its status as a club, through which it qualifies for tax breaks, is no longer in tune with the modern reality and the group has become big business. The ADAC made a profit of €50 million ($58.44 million) last year.
Grünewald says the club's members benefit from its profitability, pointing out that membership dues have not gone up in 15 years. "The ADAC is a club that's run like a business,” she said. “We have become a modern service company, but we have not changed our legal status, because we believe we are still a club with members whom we are there to serve. Our members are always the focal point of our activities."
But she does acknowledge that the ADAC hasn't always done everything right. For example, it took too long to react to the rapid technological developments in the automobile industry, and found itself with a breakdown service that wasn't always up to date. "We noticed that we couldn't go on without equipping our vehicles with computers and programs that would help diagnose problems in high-tech vehicles. But we're working on that," she said.
But Grünewald said the club’s motto doesn’t need any updating: "We're there to help -- this principle should survive another hundred years."