† Vinfast is a Vietnamese automaker startup that recently outlined plans to sell and eventually build its vehicles in the United States.
• The Vinfast offerings for our market are the VF8 and VF9, both EV crossovers.
• The automaker’s factory in its home country was a coastal wetland in 2017, but is now a modern production facility.
The “FAST” in the name VinFast is an acronym in Vietnamese, which represents the stated goals of the company, but it has not escaped our notice, or the founders of the company, that in English it means that something is done quickly . The new car brand was announced in the fall of 2017 and just a year later VinFast had three petrol cars available in Vietnam and an electric scooter factory. By the summer of 2019, the company had completed an 827-acre car factory in Hai Phong and delivered its first cars. As ICE cars gained ground in the home market, VinFast founder Pham Nhat Vuong announced in 2021 that the company would move to EVs. By the end of the year, it was selling electric scooters, electric buses and the VF e34, a small electric SUV the size of a Toyota C-HR, with the promise of two larger models, the VF8 and the VF9. The medium-sized 5-seat VF 8 and 7-seat VF9 will not only come to the US market, but will also be built here, in a new 2,000-acre facility in North Carolina. The goal, Vuong said, is to make VinFast a globally recognizable name and, you guessed it, do it quickly.
How it’s made
VinFast invited us to Vietnam to visit the factory in Hai Phong and get an idea of the wide range of the parent company VinGroup, which includes companies such as hotels, apartments, assembly plants, business parks, schools and medical research. Everyone we spoke to at VinFast responded immediately with a story about the chairman, Pham Nhat Vuong, when asked what drove the company’s fast pace and ambitious goals.
Pham has a track record of success in unlikely markets. He grew up in Hanoi, where his mother owned a tea shop. He studied in Moscow and then moved to Ukraine where he started a noodle restaurant that became popular enough to turn into an instant soup company, Technocom. Nestle bought the brand and Pham moved back to his home country, where he started a chain of resorts and became Vietnam’s first billionaire. Personal success may be enough for some, but he wants to make Vietnam a player on the world stage.
“Vietnam is not known as an industrial country,” says Pham. “It’s not known for manufacturing, but we’re developing.” He went on to say that he sees VinFast as a leader in the EV market in the future. “Maybe not in five years, but in 10? We want to be at the top.” Why such a fast timeline when other companies take decades to grow? “Life is short, I can’t be slow.”
During a tour of the VinFast factory in Hai Phong, we saw how the body was stamped, frames were welded by about 1200 robots and the assembly room where both motors and electric motors are installed. In the battery shop, individual cells purchased mainly from Samsung and LG are tested and assembled into packs for the e34 and soon for the VF8 and VF9. Engines are built in-house. The goal is to deliver two new models by the end of 2022 and to produce nearly 100,000 cars a year by 2026 – big numbers, but big growth is not new to VinFast. The factory site was a swampy coastal area in 2017 and the factory was up and running within 21 months – too fast for Google maps to keep up with. If you look it up, Google shows that the entire VinFast campus is in the ocean. We can report that it is on dry land.
The 2023 VF8
The Ford Bronco-sized VF8 is the smaller of the two VinFast models coming to the US and is further in development than the three-row VF9. At the end of the factory tour we had the chance to get behind the wheel of some VF8 prototypes. Because they were assembled from test mules before our visit, and each machine had development features that were apparent even during our two-block test ride. One had a jumpy throttle, the other laggy. One had reversed the seat controls, as we discovered when we tried to slide it forward and crushed the knees of the man in the back. Most of the promised driver aids, such as remote subpoena and self-parking, did not work. Again, these were prototypes. With 349 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque, the Eco model delivered plenty of acceleration, and the 402-hp Plus trim with 457 pound-feet of torque was downright fast. There was only one turn on our ride and we took it fast enough to dump the engineer’s notes in the passenger compartment, so our apologies to him, but the steering worked. The brakes stopped the car fine, but were set for minimal regeneration and could not be changed despite a menu option for more energy recovery. Chief engineer Huy Chieu says the adjustable regeneration will be ready for production with “one pedal” driving likely down the line. The AWD car — the only version we get in the United States — offers two battery pack options per trim level, with range estimates from 248 miles to 292.
External fit and finish was better than we would expect for a prototype. The exterior, designed by Pininfarina, is a standard SUV with some interesting details, such as a long LED strip leading to a V in the nose, and a body that directs air around the front wheels. Inside, there’s the somewhat radical decision to ditch the driver’s instruments and instead rely solely on the large central screen and head-up display. Our sample car is finished in beautiful deep blue leather, but the materials are otherwise rather traditional. When asked about the choice of faux carbon and glossy plastic trim versus more experimental materials, or materials that reflect the carmaker’s culture—as we see with Volvo and Genesis—design director David Lyons looked slightly annoyed. ‘What, like bamboo? People here would see that and say, ‘It’s weeds!’” Even with too much plastic, the interior is comfortable and brightly lit by a large sunroof. The boot appears similar to similarly sized vehicles and there is a small frunk next to the tailgate.
Batteries not included
Prototype aside, the VF8 is attractive and well-equipped, but VinFast’s big selling point is smart car technology. It plans to offer “Smart Services” such as virtual assistant, streaming video, virtual assistant, pet mode, camping mode, car wash mode, and connections between the car and a smart home.
There was a time when this would have been impressive in a $40,000 electric EV, but VinFast can lose customers through its confusing battery subscription program, which requires a battery lease not included in the purchase price.
VinFast says it will offer two variants of the plan, Flexible and Fixed. Flexible feels like an old-fashioned cellular plan, with a small monthly fee ($35 for VF8 and $44 for VF9) and a mileage limit of 310 miles per month, then $0.11-0.15 per mile after that. The fixed plan is more like unlimited data, at $110 per month for the VF8 and $160 for the VF9 with no mileage limit. VinFast says the subscription takes away customer concerns about battery life, as a leased battery is essentially always covered under warranty, but we think it makes buying an EV more difficult than it is easier. It’s possible VinFast is also considering it, as the company followed up with its initial announcement about the plan with the addendum that customers will have a battery subscription or purchase by 2024. And part of being fast is adapting quickly, after all.
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