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VW's Mueller talks to reporters at the Detroit auto show (Photo: VW)

Europe should take the lead in developing new mobility and "not leave the playing field to Silicon Valley," Volkswagen Group CEO Matthias Mueller said.

In a speech at the New Year's reception of the European auto industry association - ACEA - Mueller called on automotive companies and government policy makers to work more closely together to speed up the digital transformation of the car industry and give a boost to electric vehicles.

Though car executives have publicly embraced the strong interest in the auto industry coming from high-tech companies such as Apple and Google, they are privately worried that new players with vastly different business models could disrupt markets where they have long been the leaders. Potential conflicts especially arise where automakers are experimenting in new areas such as big data, car-sharing and connected services.

Mueller, in his speech, focused on the need for Europe to retain its strong position in the global auto industry. "The efforts of our industry alone won't be enough," he said. "We need to work together to make sure that Europe remains innovative and competitive as an industrial location."

The VW CEO acknowledged that electric vehicles, which almost all car brands now offer as part of their product portfolios, have been slow to find their way to customers. He attributed the slow sales at least in part to the absence of a comprehensive charging infrastructure. "A true breakthrough for electric mobility will only be achieved if politics, society and authorities work together more closely," Mueller said.

In a comment on the emissions-tests cheating VW has admitted, Mueller said his company would allow external and independent inspectors to test the emissions of its vehicles in future. He also called for an end to official tests that are conducted in the laboratory rather than on the road. Said Mueller: "The industry-wide discrepancies between the official test results and actual consumption are no longer accepted and no longer acceptable."

In Europe, VW starts this week with technical fixes for some 8.5 million vehicles affected by the emissions cheating. In the US, discussions about the nature of remedial actions continues with regulators.

-By Arjen Bongard