Germany's ADAC auto club on Monday conceded that its credibility has received a considerable dent after revelations that a top official had manipulated the figures in a poll on the nation's favorite car.
"We've got our work cut out for us to repair the tarnished reputation," said ADAC managing director Karl Obermair at a televised news conference in the southern city of Munich.
"We're very sorry," he said. "This strikes at the very core of our existence. Our goal is to restore our credibility."
His remarks come after it emerged over the weekend that Michael Ramstetter, the editor of the club's popular "ADAC Motorwelt" magazine, had massively manipulated the number of votes in a poll to determine Germany's favorite car. The daily Süddeutsche Zeitung reported that the figures, which last week gave the prize to German carmaker Volkswagen's Golf model, had been exaggerated by ten times.
Volkswagen has announced that it is considering returning the prize, which is seen as having a major influence on German car buyers' decision-making.
Pledging a full investigation, Obermair said Ramstetter had "made a full confession to having, in an incredibly brazen way, manipulated upward the number of votes ... this year and, he says, in recent years, too."
The magazine had reported that 34,299 people voted for the Golf, when it had only been 3,409 votes. However, according to ADAC, although the number of votes submitted had been manipulated, the ranking itself had not.
The vote-rigging has triggered a storm of protest, with Germany's Justice Ministry calling on the club to clear up the matter in the interest of consumer protection.
"Anyone whose evaluations have an influence on people's buying habits has a special responsibility to consumers," Justice Minister Heiko Maas said.
Overall credibility under scrutiny
Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer, a car expert at the Universtiy of Duisburg-Essen, said that other reports on issues regarding the safety of cars and road networks contained in the ADAC magazine would also have to be scrutinized again in light of the scandal.
"The car breakdown statistics and tunnel safety reports need to be re-examined," Dudenhoeffer said.
"If there are lies told about the 'Yellow Angel,' other areas can't be ruled out," he added. "Yellow Angel" is the name of the annual award for the country's favorite car.
ADAC, Europe's largest and most influential car club, has more than 18 milion members. In addition to the magazine, it also provides roadside assistance to motorists and sells commercial services from car rentals and insurance to holidays and long-distance bus services.
tj/mkg (AFP, Retuers, AP)