Volkswagen Group reportedly opened the door to a possible merger with rival Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, setting the stage for a potentially seismic shakeup in the global automotive industry.
Volkswagen global CEO Matthias Mueller told reporters in Germany that he would not rule out talks with Italian-American automaker Fiat Chrysler, according to Reuters.
His comments, which came after an annual press conference, signal a possible acceleration in consolidation for an industry that's on the verge of massive upheaval via self-driving vehicles and ride-hailing applications.
"I am not ruling out a conversation," Mueller told reporters, according to Reuters. He said he had not yet spoken with Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne about the topic but that "it would be very helpful if Mr. Marchionne were to communicate his considerations to me too and not just to you."
Marchionne has publicly lobbied for auto industry consolidation for years, having previously proposed a deal with General Motors that GM swiftly rejected.
But urgency is picking up after GM reached a deal to sell its European division to French automaker PSA Group, which controls the Peugeot brand, potentially translating into stiffer competition for VW in its home market.
In the U.S., Fiat Chrysler owns the popular and profitable Jeep and Ram brands but is saddled with ailing car-heavy brands Dodge, Chrysler and Fiat.
As one of the smaller global automakers, Fiat Chrysler may need a deal to navigate a massive increase in technological investment required to keep pace as the industry shifts toward self-driving vehicles, electric cars and ride-sharing business models.
A Fiat Chrysler spokesperson declined to comment, and a Germany-based spokesperson for VW was not immediately available to comment.
Potentially complicating matters is the rivalry between VW and Fiat Chrysler. Marchionne once memorably challenged VW leaders to a showdown at the Paris auto show.
But Marchionne last week told reporters at the Geneva auto show that VW might come calling.
“I have no doubt that at the relevant time VW may show up and have a chat” for a merger because the Opel-PSA deal threatens VW, Marchionne said, according to Bloomberg.
Follow USA TODAY reporter Nathan Bomey on Twitter @NathanBomey.
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