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Winterkorn, seen here testing a new manufacturing tool, is an engineer by training (Photo: VW)

Volkswagen Group CEO Martin Winterkorn said plans by consumer electronics companies to get more actively involved in the car industry may have a positive effect on car sales to a younger generation of consumers.

"I highly welcome the interest of Apple, Google and others in the automobile," Winterkorn said on the eve of the Geneva auto show. "Because that means the car will gain more acceptance from digital natives."

The head of Europe's largest car group was addressing a trend that sees younger consumers more focused on technology and online media than on owning cars. The auto industry has responded by launching car-sharing alternatives and offering easier in-car connectivity.

But Winterkorn was also responding directly to the stepped up automotive activities of Apple and Google. The two technology companies have made it clear that they have ambitious plans to be players in the global car industry. Both have launched smartphone connectivity systems and Google has, for years, been experimenting with autonomous vehicles. Press reports also say Apple has hired IT experts to, possibly, develop an electric vehicle.

The Volkswagen Group chief stressed that his company is investing heavily in R&D with specific focus on IT. VW, which spent 11.5 billion dlrs on R&D last year, has 46,000 people working in this area. In addition, the carmaker employs more than 10,000 IT experts, who are working on projects in areas such as future mobility, alternative drive concepts and the digitalization of cars and plants.