Good morning, USA: How Vietnamese startup automaker VinFast came to America
Published in Business News
ENCINITAS, California — The electric age has brought a flood of startups to the auto industry not seen for a century. Buoyed by the success of Tesla and the promise of government subsidies, small American companies like Rivian, Lucid, Lordstown, Fisker and others are vying to be the next big thing.
VinFast is a different sort of startup.
Like its startup contemporaries, VinFast — founded in 2017 — is young, hungry and determined to make its mark with electric SUVs. Unlike its U.S.-based rival, VinFast is headquartered in Hanoi and has access to the capital resources of the largest company in Vietnam: the $20.2 billion Vingroup.
Celebrating its 30th birthday this year, the company founded by Chairman Phạm Nhật Vượng has, like Hyundai and Toyota Asian multinationals before it, smelled the opportunity to offer an affordable auto alternative in the U.S. market. Like Chinese automakers GAC, Byton and Qiantu, which unveiled concepts for the U.S. market at major auto shows over the last five years, VinFast made a splash at the 2021 Los Angeles Auto Show with a stage-full of concept vehicles.
Unlike its Chinese competitors, however, VinFast has followed through on its promise. The VF 8 SUV is now on sale in California, America's biggest EV market. VinFast says the midsize ute will be quickly followed by the large, three-row VF 9 — and then the VF 6 and VF 7 compact models later this year.
"Since Day One, we had a global strategy," said VinFast CEO of North America Van Anh Nguyen in an interview at the VF 8's media launch in California. "We want to become a global, fully-electric company and here we are. We've delivered vehicles to Vietnamese customers and now we are delivering the VF 8 to American customers."
Nguyen emphasized a key to VinFast's quick-strike strategy is working with partners to develop its vehicles rather than organically growing as an auto company from within. For example, it began in Vietnam in 2017 licensing chassis from BMW and building cars for its local market. VinFast completed its first manufacturing facility in 21 months in Haiphong and began producing its LUX A2.0 sedan and LUX SA2.0 SUV.
For its EVs, VinFast has designed its own skateboard chassis with a business model that follows in Tesla's footsteps. Beginning in the California and Canadian markets, VinFast will operate through retail/service centers complemented by mobile units to service vehicles at customers' homes.
"One of our models is connecting intelligence globally," said Nguyen. "We chose to work with the best partners in styling, in engineering."
Electric motors, batteries and exterior styling have been contracted to third parties. The VF 8's designer? The legendary Italian design shop, Paninfarina. Like other startups, VinFast has poached talent from legacy manufacturers. Former General Motors Co. designer David Lyons, for example, has further refined the VF 8 design in-house.
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