John Suh focuses on making strategic investments and business partnerships in the U.S. for the Hyundai Motor Company. Prior to joining Hyundai, John worked at General Motors, Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Center) and several Silicon Valley startups, where he has had roles in corporate investing, product management and R&D. John has a BS degree in electrical engineering from Kettering University and an MS and PhD degree in mechanical engineering from Stanford University. John is also chair of the Consumer Electronics Association standards subcommittee on wireless power.
John researches and aggregates emerging technology opportunities for Hyundai as they apply to four areas of primary focus: The convergence of mobile device, digital media and wireless communication; clean-tech for automotive applications; intelligent systems and new business models in personal mobility; and automotive product development and supply chain. Regarding the opportunities for the connected car, John states, “Our investment areas ultimately are all about delivering the best possible value for the connected customer. The smartphone operating system [OS] has rightly changed everyone’s focus, and we believe that building around the smartphone ecosystem, identifying weaknesses and strengths and treating the car as an OS platform similar to that of the smartphone will guide us to that value.”
Many of Silicon Valley’s most successful companies have capitalized on their relationships with strategic partners and investors, taking advantage of key customer relationships and sharing development costs for new products. John points out that collaboration of this nature has unique benefit for innovation and technology development. “It is necessary to bridge gaps between the auto and tech industries in order to accelerate development cycles and leverage the timing of product and technology introductions. Change happens quickly,” he says. “What will it mean 10 years from now? The impact and differences will be bigger, and by being in Silicon Valley automakers can understand how to respond.”
How does Hyundai intend to leverage their presence in Silicon Valley? John answers by observing how other automakers have responded to the rapidity of tech development. “We do not want our fate to be the same as a few very large manufacturers who lost sight of how quickly technology changes and are no longer leaders in businesses they created,” he says. “Keeping abreast of new technology developments and assessing their viability for vehicles will translate our efforts into competitive advantages. This necessitates our being at the heart of innovation, where disruptive technologies are being created.”
On the subject of connected platforms, John stresses the need for automakers to take charge. “Creating proper ecosystems means the development of full-on solutions for the connected car. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay will dominate the dashboard unless automakers demonstrate leadership and deliver thoughtful solutions, either through smarter integration of those platforms or the creation of new intelligent systems that provide a better driver experience. The use of on-board sensors, including biometrics and imaging, and driver assist systems that will lead to autonomous driving, will need to evolve carefully as we continually assess what value these technologies offer to our customers,” he adds. “Data services as a revenue opportunity will also need to be assessed by automakers and leadership will be needed to capture this potential revenue.”
John also views the upcoming societal impact of autonomous vehicles as having unintended consequences, both good and bad. “Because autonomous vehicles vastly expand the available market for cars, mobility models for automakers will change for the better as for children and seniors become viable customers. Benefits for the economy through improvement in productivity have already been discussed. I speculate that employment and jobs, however, could be negatively impacted by autonomous vehicles as vehicle repair services and urgent care facilities, for example, would be in less demand as vehicle collisions are reduced. Ride-sharing models, such as Uber or ZipCar, are popular even though they tend to displace jobs within the taxi industry. So, by understanding and reacting to unintended consequences, we can mitigate the negative impact wherever it exists.”
Under John’s management, Hyundai explores technologies that are both incremental and transformative. “I would characterize this as a spectrum of innovation, whether it evolves from existing technology or is completely disruptive. Disruptive technologies, in particular, are adjacent areas for Hyundai that are less defined and more speculative. However, in 10 years we expect the impact on automotive to be more prevalent. Connectivity within multiple categories such as wearables, for instance, will generate big data that will augment our lives in ways we have not yet realized.”
Looking at what it will take to get us there, John has a focused viewpoint. “I think leading up to that point we must understand how highly dependent we are on wireless infrastructures and begin to bolster our approaches through common-sense standardization, data security and better network latency. If we prioritize wireless infrastructure development, I predict we will see enormous connected innovation from start-ups and incumbents alike in the coming years.”