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Porsche invests in Chinese digital startup iMaker to attract future car owners

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BERLIN — Porsche Ventures, the brand’s venture capital unit, announced an investment in iMaker, a Chinese startup specializing in “virtual influencers” and digital ecosystems.

Digital influencers are computer-generated animated characters and avatars with realistic facial expressions and body movements.

The characters are popular across Asia, where they are used to create interest in live events, on social media platforms and as part of corporate communications strategies.

Porsche Ventures said in a statement that it sees the investment in iMaker as a way to grab the attention of the next generation of car owners, who expect a personalized, digital portfolio of services bunded with their vehicles.

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The effort to respond to the digital demands of Chinese consumers is proving problematic for Western automakers, who are lagging behind integrating Chinese digital ecosystems into their cars.

Porsche Ventures has an annual investment framework of 150 million euros ($173 million). The value of the unit’s investment in iMaker was not disclosed.

The two companies have been partners since 2020. In the future, Porsche said it would also work with iMaker in the field of “digital application scenarios” and in-vehicle digital ecosystems as it strives to create a better digital experience for its drivers.

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iMaker was founded in 2019 and has since closed four rounds of funding with several investors in the past year, according to the company.

“In its role as a traditional sports-car manufacturer, Porsche has always been the driving force behind change and innovation,” Jens Puttfarcken, President and CEO of Porsche China, said in the statement.

“We want to remain at the forefront of the automotive industry as we move into the digital age. This investment by Porsche Ventures is an important step in implementing our digital strategy and the start of an extended partnership with iMaker.”

As cars become increasingly software driven, consumers are likely to also demand enhanced digital experiences and over the air (OTA) software upgrades, which can add additional personalization and entertainment features similar to what consumers experience through smartphone ecosystems.

In addition to things like virtual influencers, automakers could offer their users unique sound packages or customizable exterior and interior lighting options.

All Volkswagen brand ID models are now able to receive regular OTA software updates through mobile data transfers, some of which affect the ID Light, a light strip at the bottom of the windshield, which now gives the driver information on how to save energy while on the road.

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In the future, VW plans to provide its customers with free software about every three months to keep the vehicles up to date and improve the customer experience.

They are also a potential major revenue generation for automakers. In June, VW brand’s sales chief Klaus Zellmer said he sees the potential for “triple-digit-millions” in sales through OTA upgrades.

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