FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Daimler, Volkswagen and BMW say they will return awards from Germany's ADAC automotive association after an audit discovered the results of the 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 readership votes.
ADAC, whose president Peter Meyer announced his immediate resignation on Monday, had said that 34,299 motorists endorsed the Volkswagen Golf in an award to determine the most popular car in Germany.
Deloitte on Monday said only 3,271 votes had been cast in favor of the Volkswagen vehicle, adding it had found evidence of "willful manipulation" as well as technologically flawed processing of data.
Volkswagen, which won the Yellow Angel with its Volkswagen Golf model 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.
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.
ADAC which stands for Allgemeiner Deutscher Automobil-Club, has over 18 million members, and its car test reports are followed closely in a country with a deep affinity for its automobiles.
(Reporting by Edward Taylor, Jan Schwartz and Irene Preisinger; Editing by Mark Potter)