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SOUNDING like science fiction gone even further off the rails, Porsche has invested in a Chinese company producing “virtual influencers” to create attention for car owners.

Porsche Ventures, the brand’s venture capital business arm, said it was investing in iMaker, a Chinese startup that specialises 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 personalised digital portfolio of services bundled with their vehicles.

It is in answer to non-Asian car-makers who have difficulty responding to the digital demands of Chinese consumers who now want integrated digital ecosystems in their cars.

In an article published in Automotive News, Porsche, which has worked with iMaker since 2020, said it would also work with iMaker in the field of “digital application scenarios” and in-vehicle digital ecosystems to respond to customers.

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

“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 personalisation and entertainment features similar to what consumers experience through smartphone ecosystems.

In addition to things like virtual influencers, car-makers could offer their users unique sound packages or customisable exterior and interior lighting options.

OTA is becoming increasingly important. In June, Volkswagen sales chief Klaus Zellmer said he sees the potential for “triple-digit-millions” in sales through OTA upgrades.

All Volkswagen’s EV brand ID models are now able to receive regular OTA software updates through mobile data transfers.

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

By Neil Dowling