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Coffee Talk: Jay Hohauser

Periodically, we sit down with different members of AEye’s leadership team to discuss their role, their view of challenges and opportunities in the industry, and their take on what lies ahead.

This week, we talked with AEye VP of ADAS, North America, Jay Hohauser.

Jay Hohauser1. Tell us about your role at AEye

As VP of ADAS, North America, I’ll be based in Detroit, working under our SVP of ADAS, Bernd Reichert, to bring AEye and our partners into the Detroit OEMs, and to the Detroit transplants (namely the Asian OEMS somewhat local to Detroit), and any other transportation customer that we’ll have.

I’ll be working closely with our Tier 1 partners, as well as working directly with the OEMs to ensure that they have the right product at the right time to meet the needs of ADAS and autonomy.

2. You came from Valeo, where you were responsible for $1B/year Comfort & Driving Assistance Systems Business Group. What prompted your move to AEye?

In my previous role, as you mentioned, I led the Comfort and Driving Assistance Product Group in the U.S., where we sold both driver assist and “comfort” features – those intuitive controls like touch screens or connected technologies like using your phone as a key.

In that group, active safety was 80-85% of our North America business. Seeing the technology scene and capability, then meeting AEye, hearing founder Luis Dussan’s background, and seeing what he developed and brought to an automotive application blew my mind. There are many LiDAR companies on the market, but AEye’s technology and its process of leveraging the existing automotive supply chain and Tier 1 suppliers to go-to-market got me very excited and interested in joining the company.

3. As you’re aware, AEye’s approach to the automotive market is through Tier 1 suppliers. As someone who knows that industry inside and out, why do you think that’s so important?

For several reasons. One, if you have a capable partner, you don’t have to invest in manufacturing – meaning the capitalization and industrialization required to produce for automotive. Another is that Tier 1s are just better suited for OEMs’ cost-down approach to purchasing. OEMs want reductions in current business to award new business, and Tier 1s are better positioned to negotiate that.

Take Continental, for example, AEye and Continental have a common reference architecture that utilizes the same components , so there’s economies of scale when you’re preparing your bill of material and your supplier selection process, and the fact that they already have a manufacturing site and the equipment, and they have the know-how in place to work with OEMs to bring our technology to market, is advantageous.

Let Continental work directly with the OEMs. As long as we can work with both the customer and the Tier 1 to bring a solid technical solution to market with superior performance, let Tier 1s manage the supply base and the production and everything else, and let us continue to focus on developing reliable, safe systems and technologies for the market. Working with a strong partner not only benefits the end customer, but it’s a low risk way to enter the market.

4. What knowledge transfer do you think will be most important, coming from a Tier 1 to this role at AEye?

It’s really important to bring the right culture and mindset of how we work with car makers. Doing this for 30 years, I hope to bring the experience and the knowledge of, “Let’s speak in your language,” of having good communication with the customer. And that means listening, not just presenting the technology. A good engagement with customers means probing them to understand their short, medium and long-term needs, and tailoring every meeting and every presentation to meet and address those needs. In the short term, we want to win our unfair share of the market, so I’ll aggressively work with our teams to get us in the right position and to make sure that we understand clearly the customers’ needs, in order to guide us in an efficient and effective way. That excites me, and it’s what I’m wired to do.

5. You also have considerable experience with the Japanese market. How does the Japanese perspective on ADAS and advanced vehicle technologies like LiDAR differ, if at all, from their US counterparts?

My experience with Japanese companies goes all the way back to my first job at Nissan out of college, up to my position as VP at Niles America, a manufacturer of electromechanical switches, where I worked with Nissan, Honda, Subaru, Mitsubishi and General Motors before Valeo purchased Niles in 2011. What I learned is that OEMS, whether European, Asian, or North American, have their own strategy and approach. You have to allow yourself the flexibility to address that. This goes back to my point about listening, and truly understanding your customer.

6. You are a UM alum, who majored in communications, political science and philosophy. How did you choose this career path, and how have your majors been additive to that choice?

My uncle’s an attorney, and as long as I can remember, he’s been telling me that I’m going to grow up and take over his practice. So by the time I got to college, I majored in political science, which was the natural choice for pre-law. I was also coached into a double major in philosophy, both for critical thinking, and because I’ve always been decent at math, for logic. Then, as I was taking classes, I took a liking to my communication electives, so I just wound up adding a communications major. It pays to do the things you like to do.

As it turns out, I didn’t want to be a lawyer at the end of my undergraduate degree. I ventured into corporate communications, then parlayed those skills into sales. Throughout the years, I was able to expand my role to manage people and manage different business functions – HR, admin, the P&L, and dabbling in finance and engineering. This was the path that I chose , and it made sense. Communication is the backbone to working with people and building relationships, and I’ve been fortunate to have had success there.

7. Finally, what’s your favorite mode of transportation?

I’d have to say cars. I’ve ridden motorcycles and I ride my bike quite often, but – ever since I was a kid living in Detroit, home to so many car companies, and having the suppliers all around me – I’ve loved cars and lived to drive. I suppose it was fate that I would have a career in the auto industry!