VinFast, Vietnam’s first major automaker, is now weeks away from delivering its first EV to U.S. customers, the initial batch of VF 8 crossovers departing the port of Haiphong on Friday.
The automaker previously promised to get the all-electric crossovers onto U.S. roads before the end of this year, with three more models set to go on sale in 2023, company officials revealed at the LA Auto Show earlier this month.
“The export of the first 999 VF 8s is a significant event for VinFast and Vingroup and a proud historical milestone for the Vietnamese automotive industry,” said Nguyen Viet Quang, vice chairman and CEO of Vingroup, the conglomerate parent of VinFast. “It affirms that Vietnam has successfully produced high-quality standards electric vehicles that are ready to compete in the international market.”
A change in direction
VinFast was formed in 2016 and began producing its first model two years later, a licensed and customized version of the BMW X5. But the automaker subsequently announced a plan to switch to an all-electric product line-up. It revealed its first two models at the LA Auto Show in November 2021.
Initially named the VF e35 and VF e36, they were subsequently renamed the VF 8 and VF 9.
The VF 8 will be the first to arrive in the U.S. market and, during the launch of production in September, VinFast’s global chief executive Le Thi Thu Thuy said, adding the first 5,000 of those battery-electric vehicles will be shipped to North America.
The lucky number
According to the executive, the number of EVs shipped during the first run was not an accident. In Vietnam, said Thuy, “There is no luckier number than 999.”
A second batch of VF 8 crossovers is expected to be shipped from Hai Phong — where the VinFast factory is based — in January, according to Thuy.
That’s just before its second model is expected to go on sale.
The VF 8
The VF 8 is a two-row crossover. The powertrain technology was developed in-house, but Italian design studio Pininfarina crafted the basic styling which was then refined by VinFast’s styling chief Dave Lyons.
Vietnamese and European versions of the VF 8 will be offered with front-wheel drive, though all packages bound for the U.S. will feature twin-motor all-wheel drive. The base Eco package detunes the motors to a combined 260 kW — 348 horsepower and 368 pound-feet of torque. The Plus model boosts output to a combined 300 kW, or 402 hp, and 457 lb-ft of torque.
An unusual marketing plan
The automaker is taking an unusual approach to marketing the new crossover. Earlier this year, company officials announced that while customers could purchase the VF 8, they would have to lease its battery pack.
The plan has since been revised, Chief Service Officer Craig Westbrook told TheDetroitBureau.com during an interview at the LA Auto Show. They now will be able to choose a conventional purchase plan combining the vehicle and its pack, or opt for the battery lease program. With the latter package, the VF 8 will start at $40,700 plus monthly charges for the battery.
The basic lease plan comes in at $35 a month and covers up to 310 miles of free use each month. Motorists who go above that will pay an additional 11 cents per mile. The alternative is an all-you-can-drive plan running $110 a month.
A U.S. factory and a larger line-up
As a result of the changes enacted as part of the Inflation Reduction Act the U.S. Congress passed earlier this year, the VinFast VF 8 no longer qualifies for EV incentives. But the Vietnamese automaker hopes to work around that by shifting production of both the VF 8 and VF 9 EVs to a 2,000-acre assembly complex it is setting up in North Carolina. That complex is set to begin operations in 2024 at a cost of $2 billion.
The second VinFast model, the three-row VF 9, is expected to go on sale in the U.S. during the first quarter of 2023, Westbrook said during an exclusive interview.
It will now be followed later in 2023 by two smaller offerings that debuted in Los Angeles, the VinFast VF 6 and VF 7 SUVs. Together, the products will cover almost all major segments of the U.S. SUV market, company officials said — though Westbrook said VinFast is considering the addition of a fifth model for the U.S. market. The VF 5 is a sporty subcompact SUV that, for now, is being targeted at both Asian and European buyers.
All told, the automaker plans worldwide sales of about 750,000 of its battery-electric vehicles annually by 2026.