VinFast, Vietnam's Biggest Carmaker
Visitors to the Los Angeles Auto Show in November 2021 may have been surprised to stumble across a display, and a couple of SUV models, with an unfamiliar badge: the VF8 and VF9 are the first products to be sold in North America by VinFast, a new car brand from Vietnam, with ambitions to become a massive global player as the automotive industry transitions to electric driving over the next several years.
VinFast is part Vingroup JSC, a highly-diversified conglomerate that is Vietnam’s biggest – with holdings in technology, homebuilding, hospitality, education, healthcare, shopping malls, and more. VinFast, the company’s car brand, was established in 2017 when ground was broken for a state-of-the-art factory in Cat Hai Island, Vietnam; its first gasoline-powered vehicles hit the road in 2019, and are now the top-selling vehicles in their segments at home.
You get the sense VinFast’s existing gasoline fleet, sold only in Vietnam, basically exists to get the company’s feet wet; its focus has always been on electromobility. In addition to selling gasoline vehicles, VinFast is big in electric scooters, and electric buses in Vietnam. The VF8 and VF9, introduced at the L.A. Show in 2021, are not only going to be the company’s entrants into the North American market, they’re also the company’s first global products, designed and engineered to be sold around the world.
There aren’t a lot of details yet on the VF8 and VF9; the presentation in L.A. was focused on the company rather than the products themselves. What we do know is that they are targeted at the heart of the North American passenger-car market, tackling the midsize and full-size SUV segments head-on. Styled by Pininfarina and Torino design, the VF8 and VF9 both exhibit crisp lines that hint at their electric powertrains, and are sized to compete with players like the Toyota RAV4 and Highlander, respectively. The larger VF9 is the more interesting of the two designs, incorporating aerodynamic features like “air curtains” in the hood and front end to redirect air from high-drag areas as well as flush-fitting door handles, glass and trim. Both vehicles offer two range options, with the midsize VF8 giving the choice of 285 or 301 miles, and the full-size e36 offering 301 or 422 miles.
Buy the Car, Lease the Battery
VinFast promises both models will come with a full suite of advanced technologies, including lane assist, collision warning, driver monitoring, fully automated parking including a summon feature, and more. Their “smart infotainment” features include voice and virtual assistants – no doubt built off technology from sister company VinSmart, which specializes in artificial intelligence and internet-connected devices.
So far, so expected; high-tech features and aerodynamic designs are par for the course in the EV market these days, and VinFast will have to do a lot more than offer parity to stand out in the competitive North American market.
The way you buy a VinFast will be different – at least from legacy brands. Like Tesla and Lucid, the company will operate its own stores, planning to open 60 boutiques in California alone, along with selling cars online. What will make buying a VinFast different, and potentially more affordable, is that the company plans on selling its cars without batteries – and will offer the batteries for lease only, alleviating concerns about purchasing a vehicle with outdated technology. With very few moving parts to worry about, a VinFast, like any electric vehicle, will likely last for a very long time, and the company plans to offer a 10 year warranty to provide customers with further reassurance.
One reason that VinFast can offer this innovative battery leasing scheme is that it’s invested heavily in battery production. In late 2021, it broke ground on a new battery manufacturing facility in Ha Tinh, Vietnam, which can produce up to 100,000 battery packs per year in its first phase, with the ability to scale to 1 million packs per year. Massively automated, it gives the company a reliable supply of batteries and will in theory insulate its products from the supply-chain issues that have affected other manufacturers. The new facility will also serve as a research-and-development facility to develop EV technologies such as super-fast charging, solid-state batteries, and advanced battery materials.
Taking Reservations Now
So when can you actually try, and maybe buy, one of these new VinFast models?
The company is currently taking reservations for the $41,000 VF8 and $56,000 VF9 on its website, vinfastauto.us, and says the first vehicles will be delivered by the end of 2022. Global production estimates remain small, with the company targeting just 15,000 cars in 2022, before ramping up significantly in following years as VinFast expands its physical retail network in North America.
More models are on the way, as well. Three more models, the VF5, VF6, and VF7 are targeted at the subcompact, compact, and midsize crossover segments, and were teased at the CES show in January 2022. Like the VF8 and VF9, they’ll be penned by Pininfarina and Torino Design, with optimized aerodynamics. More tech is also promised, embracing a “technologies for life” approach that will bring more digital experiences to customers’ dashboards.