Thilo Koslowski, CEO of Porsche Digital GmbH, and his team—around eighty strong—moved into their new Ludwigsburg premises, near Stuttgart, just a few months ago. It’s a former engineering works in the heart of town, a building of brick and steel. Innovators, developers, project managers, and user experience designers now meet in agile product teams where shift workers once stood along assembly lines. The team takes a holistic approach to thinking and production. Everyone is on a first-name basis with the boss, “Thilo.” He leaves the Laguna Seca conference room and enters the Monaco room, passing seating areas where laptops are glowing and ideas are shimmering. In the interview below, he explains why digital products that are a response to questions unrelated to driving pleasure are being launched in tandem with the new Porsche 911.
Porsche Digital has been in existence for two years. Your team has grown from two employees to eighty. What does the launch of the Porsche Impact, 360+, and Road Trip projects mean for such a new company?
We’re currently working on fifteen projects, collaborating with thirteen start-ups and venture capital funds, and involved in seven other strategic projects that reflect our vision of what Porsche will be in the future. Having three digital products going live simultaneously with the new Porsche 911 is a major step for us. We’re shaping Porsche’s future together with our colleagues who further refine the company’s sports cars.
You worked in Silicon Valley for around twenty years. What are some experiences from that period that now help you at Porsche Digital?
We work closely with Porsche AG and are a fully owned subsidiary. In this regard, the Silicon Valley approach that prioritizes customer desires is our approach as well. However—and here’s the difference—we’re taking a different path than start-ups in Silicon Valley.
What does the Porsche path look like?
We’re interested in enduring quality. That’s one element that we’ve established over the past two years. Porsche has an outstanding tradition and durable products. That must be mirrored digitally as well. Whatever we put on the market has to bring added value to the customer. It can’t follow a short-lived trend; it has to set trends for the future.
And how are you setting trends for the future?
At the moment, we’re doing that through Porsche Impact, 360+, and Porsche Road Trip. Porsche Impact, because it’s another building block in the actions we’re taking on the road to sustainable mobility. We’re no longer considering the Porsche company alone but inviting customers to be active participants as well. They can do that by becoming aware of the ecological footprint left by the 70 percent of all Porsches ever built that are still on the road. What could be more sustainable than that? Porsche 360+, because at its highest stage, our first lifestyle product is aimed at anyone who delights in our way of life. We translate the concept of the concierge into the digital world and link it to a back office where operators are available around the clock to meet customer requests. Porsche Road Trip turns the journey into the destination, offering curated routes with everything one might want along the way, including restaurants, hotels, and points of interest. It’s all together in a single offer and can be used in any Porsche—as well as in any other car.
You work a lot with other start-ups. What’s the collaboration like in practice?
It varies considerably. We look for partners with whom we can collaborate on innovations. To do that, we also help finance start-ups that are being set up or have just been launched. But to some extent we get involved earlier on, when the start-up is perhaps still at the concept stage. So anyone with a clever concept should stop by. Every day, numerous applications arrive either at our office or our accelerator, APX, with ideas for mobility, Porsche, and other topics that we find exciting. In addition, we look for new companies that would be a good fit for a collaboration—for instance, selected specialists in car care service for 360+.
If everything is going digital, will Porsches turn into smartphones on wheels?
I hear that comparison all the time. But in fact, it’s the other way around! A car is the ultimate mobility tool. It takes me everywhere I want to go and with the utmost precision; unlike a helicopter, it doesn’t need a landing pad at a distance from the destination; it doesn’t need a stop like a bus. Cars are enjoying a renaissance, because the need for individual and connected mobility is increasing. And that’s why a car will always be a car, even if you find displays and artificial intelligence inside.
But how will we get around with our cars? Will they drive autonomously or be self-steering?
Both. Autonomous driving for traffic jams or on monotonous roads? Why not? And just take a look at all the positive images we have that relate to driving—you need look no further than idioms such as “to take the wheel.” It shows me that driving a car is a sensual experience. For me, it’s a vacation for the soul. It was something I enjoyed doing in California on weekends, and I made an effort to find new routes. One of them, by the way, is now part of Porsche Road Trip: Highway No. 1.
Digital products from Porsche—what do you think Ferdinand Porsche would’ve said to that?
That’s a good question. He’d probably have found it quite exciting. But I don’t want to speculate and prefer to mention what his grandson Dr. Wolfgang Porsche thinks about the subject. He knows that our emergence into the digital age will ensure that the heart of the Porsche brand will continue to beat in future generations. That’s because Porsche is more than merely a car. What we’re doing here is providing digital opportunities and experiences. We don’t want to compel any customer to drive autonomously or to use digital applications. What’s most important to me is that our children will one day want to experience Porsche too.