WOLFSBURG -- Volkswagen Group CEO Matthias Mueller left the door open to potential tie-up talks with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles in a marked change of tone by the German carmaker toward its Italian peer.
At VW's annual results news conference on Tuesday, Mueller did not rule out the possibility he could hold merger talks with Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne.
Last week, Mueller appeared to dismiss the prospect of talks with Fiat Chrysler, saying at the Geneva auto show that VW had enough on its plate as it struggled to overcome its emissions scandal and push a wide-ranging business transformation.
On Tuesday, Mueller said: "I never said that a liaison with any other partner is ruled out once and for all. I only said that there is no contact at the moment between myself and Mr Marchionne."
"It would be very helpful if Mr. Marchionne were to communicate his considerations to me too and not just to you," Mueller told reporters.
Marchionne has long advocated car industry mergers to share the costs of making cleaner and more technologically advanced vehicles and has repeatedly relayed his desire via the media.
VW Group is likely to face heightened competition in Europe after Peugeot maker PSA Group agreed this month to buy General Motors' Opel business to create a stronger second player in the region behind VW.
Mueller declined to discuss whether the PSA-Opel deal could reinforce consolidation among carmakers in Europe and said VW would in any case press on with its strategic shift to embrace electric cars and automated driving.
"I am pretty confident about the future of Volkswagen, with or without Marchionne," he said.
Fiat Chrysler shares rose more than 2 percent following the comments, while VW's were little changed.