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German automakers do not want to disclose senior managers' salaries, poll shows

Munich. German automakers are adamant that the salaries of their top managers should remain confidential, according to an Automobilwoche poll.

Automobilwoche surveyed 20 automakers and suppliers with publicly traded shares.

Automakers in particular remain uncompromising, despite a German government warning that disclosure may become mandatory.

Some of the companies questioned fear that disclosure would trigger internal discussions over why one chief executive gets paid more than another as well as unwelcome public debate.

At Porsche, there is a feeling that the government's plan, which is based on Germany's corporate-governance guidelines, could violate constitutional law.

The sports car manufacturer was expelled from Germany's DAX stock index in September 2001 because it did not want to file quarterly earnings reports.

A Porsche spokesman said there are "hints of hysteria and hypocrisy" in the discussion over salaries.

Porsche officials said the company will not voluntarily make public the salaries paid to individual managers.

DaimlerChrysler, BMW, Volkswagen and the supplier Continental, which are all included in the DAX, also don't want to disclose their executives' salaries, despite political pressure.

Bavaria's prime minister, Edmund Stoiber, and recently also German President Horst Koehler have demanded more transparency and want the DAX companies to adapt to international standards.

DaimlerChrysler is taking the discussion over management salaries "very seriously," a spokesman said.

However, there are fears that in the case of disclosure, individual management compensation may need to be adjusted to avoid arguments over different salaries.

BMW, on the other hand, believes that it is already "sufficiently transparent." A spokeswoman said that the company has an upper limit on board directors' salaries.

At VW, Klaus Volkert, head of the works council, is also against the disclosure of salaries.

"I do not know who would benefit from the publication of management salaries. It would certainly not make the world any fairer."

Klaus Franz, head of the general works council at GM subsidiary Adam Opel, said the company had already been considering the publication of management compensation.

However, the supervisory board unanimously dismissed the idea. Opel is not listed on the stock exchange.

Meanwhile trade unions are demanding more openness.

"This would strengthen the automobile and supplier industry's esteem and acceptance," said Joerg Hofmann, regional manager at the IG-Metall metalworkers union in the industrial state of Baden-Wuerttemberg.

"The current shilly-shallying over disclosure gives reason to believe that, at some corporations, performance and payment might be disproportionate."

MAN, which has 50 percent of its sales in the commercial trucks sector, is considering whether to disclose the compensation of its chief executive.

Some suppliers also seem prepared to become more transparent. Wheel rim manufacturer BBS, for example, "is currently discussing the possible disclosure of board members' salaries," said Finance Director Joachim Simon.

Sealing specialist Phoenix has already made a decision. Individual salaries will be disclosed for the first time in the 2004 annual report, said Meinhard Liebing, spokesman for the board of directors. He said that in view of increasing globalization it is not understandable why Germany should be lagging behind the US when it comes to transparency.

Liebing said that "it is regrettable that the current debate might lead to a solution imposed by law that I do not believe in at all."

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