Vietnamese automaker VinFast is the latest startup targeting the emerging U.S. market for battery-electric vehicles.
Based outside the capital city of Hanoi, it pulled the covers off two new, all-electric SUVs during a well-attended news conference at the LA Auto Show Wednesday afternoon — and a senior executive told TheDetroitBureau.com that as many as three more BEVs will be unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in early January.
Separately, VinFast Global CEO Michael Lohscheller confirmed in an exclusive interview the company plans to set up a U.S. assembly plant by 2024, with a goal of localizing at least some of the products it believes it can sell in the American market. Initial models, however, will be imported from Vietnam.
A fast start for VinFast
VinFast was founded just four years ago, with its first assembly complex debuting in 2019 on reclaimed land along Haiphong Harbor, a major port that had been heavily bombed during the Vietnam War. Initially, it went to market in its local region with a midsize, mid-luxury SUV based on the BMW X5.
That model was gas powered, but the carmaker is shifting entirely to electric propulsion, Lohscheller said. And while VinFast is still working closely with key technology partners — as well as Italian design house Pininfarina — the two models that debuted in L.A. were largely developed in-house. That includes the skateboard-like platform they share, with batteries and motors mounted below their load floors.
The VF e35 is the smaller of the two, with a more sporty, compact shape that chief designer Dave Lyon described as “Dynamic Balance.” It features a curvaceous roofline and crisp, sharp lines. It also shares the same basic face as the bigger VF e36, with light bars wrapping around the brand’s signature “V” logo.
The 36 is a midsize crossover with a more classic SUV shape and a wide-shouldered stance but, even then, it was heavily influenced by the wind tunnel. To improve aerodynamics — and increase range — it boasts features like flush door handles and a built-in spoiler, as well as air curtains to reduce wind drag around the front wheels.
Luxury at a mainstream price
Inside, the two models opt for a mid-luxury look, and share such features as a full-color head-up display and a 15.5-inch touchscreen infotainment system. Drivers can dial things down with “Zen Mode,” which removes most information from the video display.
The automaker did not offer much detail about the all-electric drivetrain it has developed, though Lohscheller said the goal is to deliver a range of about 400 miles per charge using the global WLTP test. The stricter EPA ratings would likely come in closer to 300 miles, an official acknowledged.
According to Lohscheller, VinFast will follow the path of other new Asian entries, using a relatively low price point to attract potential buyers. The company also plans to set up a factory-owned network that, he said, will emphasize high-touch customer service. Initially, the Vietnamese company will have 60 showrooms in California. He declined to say how or when it would expand into other parts of the U.S.
Slow and steady
Lohscheller also declined to discuss VinFast’s sales goals, but sources familiar with the company indicate it is geared up for slow, steady growth, rather than trying to make a big push from Day One.
VinFast officials have never hidden their aspirations to enter the U.S. — and European — market. There have been questions about whether the company could pull off the task. And, in decades past, it would have seemed unlikely. Until recently, only a handful of new entrants have been able to crack the code, such as Hyundai and Kia.
That has begun to change with the emergence of the battery-electric vehicle. Tesla has gained a strong foothold and a market capitalization that established automakers like General Motors, Volkswagen and Toyota can only dream of. A handful of new players, like Rivian and Lucid, appear to have a chance, analysts say, though the fate of others, like Faraday Future and Lordstown Motors, seems far less certain.
“If a company from any country in the world could make it happen, it’s the Vietnamese,” said Michael Dunne, an Asian automotive analyst and head of consulting firm ZoZo Go. “They are the most tenacious, ambitious people on the planet. When they set out to do something, they do it.”
The VinFast VFe-35 and VFe-36 models will go on sale next Spring, said Lohscheller, with deliveries set to begin late in the year.