Vietnamese Carmaker, VinFast, Plots a Course for the U.S. Market

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AUTOS, Business and Finance, Car and Transportation Tech, Start Up Tech, TECH, TECHCRUNCH

VinFast, the Vietnamese automaker under Vingroup, was one of the LA Auto Show’s numerous newcomers this year aiming to make an impression with consumers.

The company showed off two all-electric crossovers at the show. And like so many new entrants to automotive — or in VinFast’s case, new to the United States — the vehicles are not yet in production.

VinFast shared few details on the specs of the vehicles, which are due to show up in the U.S. in late 2022. Visitors to the show could sign up via Typeform to be among the first to “experience” the vehicles and indicate purchasing interest.

“Right now we want people to register. So we want to … collect and build up the database so that we know where customers are, you know, who is interested. And then, we will keep them updated on the progress that the products and the service here that we are going to offer,” VinFast US CEO Van Anh Nguyen said in an interview with TechCrunch on Thursday.

Customers who are interested can put down a deposit to reserve their vehicle of choice in one of eight colors in the first quarter of 2022. Update: Nguyen said the deposit was $500. A spokesperson later said that figure was incorrect and that the company has not decided how much money the customer will pay for reservation and will announce soon when time’s appropriate.”

According to Nguyen, when the vehicles become available a few months later, interested customers can test drive and determine if they want to convert that deposit into a purchase. While specs and details are thin, VinFast appears to be moving quickly with plans to enter the U.S. market.

A factory, HQ and 60 stores

VinFast’s plans for the United States extend well beyond selling some electric crossovers. The company announced ambitious plans to invest more than $200 million to open a U.S. headquarters based in Los Angeles. The company also plans to open more than 60 sales locations, multiple service centers and some mobile service sites by 2022. A factory is also on the list, although that is not slated to open until the second half of 2024.

It’s a fast run-up for VinFast that will require significant capital and staff.

Nguyen has been in the states just 14 months, she said, working to put together the team that will bring VinFast models to the U.S. market. She would not disclose where that manufacturing facility might be located, however.

VinFast also told Reuters recently that the company plans to list on the U.S. stock market in the next few years.

While other Asian auto manufacturers like Korean-owned Hyundai and Kia and Japanese-owned Toyota, Subaru and Mazda have all cracked the U.S. market, VinFast is the first Vietnamese company to make the attempt. Chinese companies like BYD have tried and failed to break into the U.S. market.

What is VinFast?

VinFast is a part of the Vingroup, a private Vietnamese conglomerate started in 1993 that dabbles in everything from real estate and hospitality to industrials, technology and even education.

VinFast, the automotive arm, announced its first internal combustion engine vehicles at the 2018 Paris Motor Show, a pair of luxury sedans that used BMW engines. They quickly followed up with the launch of a number of e-scooters, Lux SUVs and cars specifically for the Vietnamese market. Within a year, the company says its vehicles became the fastest-selling in Vietnam.

Just this year, the company launched an all-electric bus and more scooters in Vietnam, as well as the two SUVs it pulled the cover off of at the LA Auto Show on Wednesday, the VinFast VFe35 and VFe36, which the company says will be global vehicles. In many ways, VinFast seems similar to a Hyundai Group in that the automotive business makes up a very small portion of the other main businesses.

Vingroup also owns VinAI, which, according to a small display off to the side of the two new SUVs VinFast unveiled at the show, is a separate legal entity that is working on what appears to be an in-car AI that can track your movements in the driver’s seat to determine whether you’re paying attention, looking at your phone or drowsy. The system also uses sensors and cameras to determine obstacles like pedestrians and scooters outside the vehicle and help avoid crashes.

Two electric SUVs for the global market

The VinFast VFe35 and VFe36, both electric vehicles, will be built in VinFast’s massive, 90% automated manufacturing facility in Vietnam. The two vehicles were designed in partnership with automotive brand Pininfarina. That name likely sounds familiar — Pininfarina is known for designing classic Ferraris as well as the Pininfarina Battista, an electric sports car that costs $2 million.

VinFast said that the SUVs will be able to travel around 300 miles on a charge, though it did not reveal any charging or capacity details on Wednesday. Nguyen added that there will be two versions of each vehicle, the Eco and Plus models. She said that the VFe35 will have a range of around 285 miles in the Eco model and 310 miles in the Plus model. The larger VFe36 Eco model will get around 310 miles and the Plus will get around 420 miles of range, she said.

The two SUVs on the stage at the LA Auto Show are both prototypes, and the spec sheet shows that the VFe35 and VFe36 prototypes appear to have 402 hp and 472 lb-ft of torque, a variety of airbags, a virtual assistant, “remote control by VinFast App,” an e-commerce service, video game, in-car office and something called location-based and behavioral advertising.

Nguyen said that VinFast is working closely with a number of partners. While she wouldn’t disclose the battery supplier, she said the cells are from a “very, very famous company.”

The battery packs will be made at VinFast’s facility in Vietnam. “We’ve been working closely with our battery partners like ProLogium and few others as well,” she added. “We have selected very good and experienced partners on battery technology.”

ProLogium is a solid-state battery manufacturer based in Taiwan.

VinFast says that the two vehicles will have a suite of standard advanced driver assistance systems, a full-color head-up display, and a 15.5-inch touchscreen that can be changed to display your favorite photo in “zen mode” with a swipe of your finger.

We weren’t allowed to open the doors of either vehicle on the floor at the LA Auto Show. The smaller VFe35 had what appeared to be a real interior, but no digital cluster in front of the steering wheel, while the VFe36 had no interior.

VinFast plans to sell only electric vehicles in the U.S., and its rapid four-year path to vehicle production is almost unheard of in the automotive industry. The company said that deliveries of vehicles will start at the end of 2022. We’ll have to wait until next year to see just how it all shakes out.

Read my story on TechCrunch

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Abigail Bassett is a full-time freelance journalist, content creator, and television, video, and podcast host whose work has appeared in publications like TechCrunch, Fast Company, Inc. Magazine, Forbes, Fortune, Motor Trend, Shondaland, Money Magazine, and on CNN. Her passion is telling unique stories that change the way we see, interact with, and relate to the world. She is also a Yoga Alliance Registered 500-hour yoga teacher.

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